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Americans Saying ‘No’ to Toyota

Americans Saying ‘No’ to Toyota; Ford Most Popular


March 25 -- Americans are turning against Toyota Motor Corp. after sudden-acceleration complaints forced it to recall more than 8 million vehicles worldwide, while Ford Motor Co. is the most popular automaker.

More than four in 10 Americans say they “would definitely not buy a Toyota,” according to the Bloomberg National Poll. The Japanese company is viewed unfavorably by 36 percent of those interviewed, the highest negative rating in the survey, while fewer than half -- 49 percent -- have a favorable impression.

Ford, the only U.S. automaker that didn’t seek a federal rescue, is seen favorably by 77 percent of those surveyed, topping No. 2 Honda Motor Co. by seven percentage points. General Motors Co., eight months after getting U.S. aid to survive, has a positive rating of 57 percent.

The results show the challenge faced by Toyota, which in 2008 passed GM to become the world’s largest automaker, as it tries to regain consumer confidence, said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.

“In the short term, they need to focus on the people that have recently changed their minds about the company,” Lindland said in an interview. “In the long term, it could be quite different. It depends on how much they’ve alienated the people that are, say, under 40.”

‘Ignored’ Problem

The poll found that the older the respondent, the less likely they were to have a positive opinion of Toyota: 37 percent of people over 65 see the company favorably compared with 51 percent of those under 35.

The survey of 1,002 U.S. adults was conducted March 19-22 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

“Obviously we’d like to have our favorable much higher and our unfavorable much lower,” said John Hanson, a spokesman for Toyota’s North American sales unit in Torrance, California. “But it looks like our sales this month will be very strong.”

The Toyota City, Japan-based company is using no-interest loans and lease discounts to coax back buyers after its U.S. sales dropped 12 percent in the first two months of this year. The incentives have helped boost sales as much as 44 percent in March from a year earlier, said Dave Cutting, senior manager of North American forecasting for J.D. Power & Associates.

Full-month sales may rise 37 percent, Cutting said. Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry researcher TrueCar.com, said he expects a 28 percent sales advance.

Declining Market Share

Toyota’s share of U.S. vehicle sales in February fell to 12.8 percent from 15.9 percent a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ford Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth said “it’s far too early” to say if those market share losses will be permanent.

“They’re a formidable company with formidable resources and with a stellar track record of building their brand,” Booth said yesterday in an interview. “You’d be foolish to count them out.”

Toyota’s American depositary receipts, each representing two ordinary shares, fell 51 cents to $81.07 at 12:05 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange trading. The company has lost $16.7 billion in market value since announcing a recall on Jan. 21.

U.S. lawmakers, regulators and safety advocates have accused Toyota of responding too slowly to complaints of sudden acceleration. Testimony before congressional committees included documents showing company managers bragged about money they saved by negotiating to ward off recalls.

Of the 44 percent of respondents who said they would definitely not buy a Toyota if they were buying a new car in the next year, 39 percent cited the recent recalls.

‘Ignored It’

“They’ve known this problem existed and they’ve ignored it and managed to get their government buddies to ignore it,” said poll respondent Ken Sorenson, 55, a disabled hazardous-waste worker from Corry, Pennsylvania. He is among those who said they definitely wouldn’t buy a Toyota.

Ford, which avoided the bankruptcy that hit GM and Chrysler Group LLC, returned to profit last year and gained U.S. market share for the first time since 1995. Its market value has increased almost fivefold in the last 12 months.

“I look at Ford and I think of good products and stability,” said respondent Torrey White, a 29-year-old sales representative in Chesapeake, Virginia, who drives a 2005 Ford Expedition. “Even with all of this bailout talk last year, Ford was standing tall.”

White said he’s positive about GM as well, because he wants to support American car companies.

‘Headlines, Coverage’

“The headlines, the news coverage, influences overall reputation pretty significantly,” Edmunds.com Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Anwyl said. “Ford has benefited from 12-plus months of favorable headlines and the opposite for Toyota.”

GM has said it may return to profit this year, a year ahead of schedule.

Toyota’s overall favorable rating ranked fifth behind Ford, Honda, Nissan Motor Co. and GM, and was about equal with those of Chrysler and Hyundai Motor Co., according to the Bloomberg survey. Toyota had the highest “very unfavorable” rate at 12 percent.

LINK: Americans Saying ?No? to Toyota; Ford Most Popular (Update2) - Bloomberg.com

Rick

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