The same day Toyota (7203:JP) appeared to cement its lead in the global car sales race, the Japanese giant lost a powerful endorsement. In its annual reliability ranking, Consumer Reports said it no longer recommends three of Toyota’s most popular vehicles: the Camry, the RAV4 SUV and the Prius V hybrid wagon. All three cars drew poor ratings in a new test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
As a company, Toyota fared well. Its Lexus luxury line finished No. 1, and the Toyota brand was ranked second-most-reliable. That may not matter to car-buyers, who presumably care more about buying a safe, reliable car than about an automaker’s broader reputation. Longtime Toyota drivers may be surprised to learn that Consumer Reports will no longer recommend any version of the Camry, the top-selling car in the U.S. for the past 11 years.
“Maybe there was a time that you could say: ‘Well, if it’s a car from Subaru (9632:JP), it’s a car from Toyota, it’s going to be reliable,’” Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, told Bloomberg News. “No longer are we seeing that.” Subaru’s Forester, for example, was the top-rated vehicle, while its BRZ sports car scored relatively poorly. Overall, the company finished in the No. 10 spot.
With 2013 rapidly coming to a close, Toyota’s global sales lead seems secure this year, and the Camry is still the top-selling car in America. Even so, with 8 million subscribers, Consumer Reports has long been a trusted source for would-be car buyers and its influence is considered on a par with recommendations from friends and family and test drives. It doesn’t sell advertising space to car companies and it insists on buying the vehicles it tests, rather than taking freebies. It even has its own car-testing track on the Connecticut coast.
“The institute has raised the bar again, and we are responding to the challenge,” Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “We are looking at a range of solutions to achieve greater crash performance in this area.”
Of the U.S. automakers, General Motors (GM) fared best with a ninth-place ranking on the Consumer Reports list. Ford (F) drew poor scores for alleged glitches in its electronics systems. Chrysler finished below par as well.