Bloomberg News

Honda, Japanese Automakers Sweep Consumer Reports' `Top Picks'

March 01, 2006

Honda Motor Co. and three other Japanese automakers swept Consumer Reports magazine's annual list of top new cars and trucks for the first time as U.S. and European companies failed to rank among the U.S. industry's ``best.''

Five of the autos chosen as ``top picks'' in 10 categories are sold by Honda, including the Civic and Accord sedans, the U.S. magazine said in its April issue. Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Subaru, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270)'s auto brand, each had two models on the list. Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti M35 was named the top luxury sedan.

The rankings were released as Toyota and Honda furthered their market-share gains against U.S. rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. (F:US) in February sales released today. ``Toyota and Honda's core customers are people in their 30s and 40s who really rely on Consumer Reports,'' said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst with industry forecaster Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts.

The annual auto ranking from Yonkers, New York-based Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, is among the most influential new vehicle guides in the U.S., say automakers and analysts. Consumers Union currently has 4 million subscribers to the magazine. That makes it the seventh-largest U.S. magazine by circulation, based on Audit Bureau of Circulations data.

Toyota, Honda

Over the past decade, Toyota, the world's second-biggest automaker behind GM, and Honda, No. 3 in Japan, have had the highest number of top picks in the magazine. From 1997 to 2006, Toyota models held 34 top spots and Honda cars, minivans and other light trucks were selected 27 times. Ford has had eight top picks since 1997. DaimlerChrysler AG also has had eight Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz models among the top picks since 1997.

Toyota's Highlander Hybrid sport-utility vehicle was selected as the top SUV over $30,000, and its hybrid Prius hatchback was the magazine's ``green'' pick for the fifth time in six years.

Subaru's Forester was selected as the best SUV for under $30,000. The Tokyo-based company's Impreza WRX sport sedan was the magazine's ``fun to drive'' choice for a second year in row.

Consumer Reports conducts 50 separate tests of vehicles evaluated for the annual guide. ``Each top pick has to be a recommended model, and it must have average or better-than-average reliability,'' said Rik Paul, the magazine's automotive editor, in a conference call today. ``It must do well in overall safety.''

U.S. Brands

This year's list marks the first time since 2002 that GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler failed to have a top pick. In that year, only Asian and European brands made the 10 best list.

``For the U.S. automakers not to have a single model in the top 10 has to be a little disheartening,'' Lindland said. ``The domestic automakers have improved their quality, but the challenge is the bar keeps moving.''

Prior to today's announcement by Consumer Reports, Honda's Civic and Ridgeline models, released in 2005, were selected as car and truck of the year by Motor Trend magazine. They were also named vehicles of the year at the Detroit auto show in January. The Ridgeline, Honda's first pickup truck, the Odyssey minivan and Acura TL sports car were also named Consumer Reports ``bests.''

Independence

To maintain independence, Consumers Union doesn't accept advertising, buys the autos it reviews and doesn't allow companies whose products or services are recommended to refer to it in advertising, spokesman Gene Lomoriello said. Consumers Union, founded in 1936, has published auto reviews for more than 50 years, he said.

``As a primary source of information for new-car buyers, it's a powerhouse,'' said Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Oregon. Some 14 percent of people planning to buy a new vehicle cite Consumer Reports as a ``primary'' source of information, according to CNW data.

``That's a higher percentage, as a primary resource, than for either television, both cable and network programs, and the Internet,'' Spinella said. CNW's data reflects responses from 190,000 people surveyed through the end of January, he said.

Consumer Reports' 2006 list of new autos is published in its April edition, available March 7.

Consumer Reports' Top Picks 2006

1. Sedan, less than $20,000: Honda Civic
2. Sedan, $20,000-$30,000: Honda Accord
3. Sedan, $30,000-$40,000: Acura TL
4. Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M35
5. SUV, less than $30,000: Subaru Forester
6. SUV, more than $30,000: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
7. Minivan: Honda Odyssey
8. Pickup Truck: Honda Ridgeline
9. Green Car: Toyota Prius
10. Fun to Drive: Subaru Impreza WRX / STi

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dave Versical at dversical@bloomberg.net


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