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Consumer Reports survey reveals that buyer interest in Toyota is waning

Toyota’s recent recalls have had a bigger effect on its image among younger buyers than their older counterparts, according to Consumer Reports.

The magazine conducts a survey of U.S. consumer views of auto companies every year, and Toyota regularly collects some of the highest marks. Consumer Reports repeated a portion of the survey earlier this month, following a series of massive recalls by the Japanese automaker and the temporary suspension of sales of eight of its popular models.

Among consumers who drive a Toyota regularly, 60% said they probably would purchase a Toyota the next time they are in the market for a new car. That’s down 10 percentage points from the December 2009 survey. 

The magazine also asked people whether they planned to purchase a Toyota vehicle in both surveys. In the post-recall survey, 15.7% of the respondents ages 18 to 44 said they were considering a Toyota, down from 17.1% in December. Among those 45 and older, 11.1% said they planned to buy a Toyota, down from 12% in December.

Jeff Bartlett, one of the magazine’s automotive editors, said the bigger drop in purchase intent among younger drivers could be a result of having owned fewer cars. Older buyers might have had good experiences with multiple Toyota purchases and are less fearful of the company’s recent safety and quality problems.

Nonetheless, "this is a troubling trend" for Toyota, Bartlett said. "Carmakers always covet younger buyers in hopes they can nurture them into lifetime customers," he said.

And while a blended drop of four percentage points in purchased intent among all drivers might not be a big number, "This is significant because as Toyota is losing ground, you can see its competitors gain ground," he said.

Still, even with this decline, Toyota purchase intent among all respondents remained greater than all brands except Ford, 17%, and Chevrolet, 14%.

The results of Consumer Report’s survey mirror projected U.S. auto market trends for February.

Auto information company Edmunds.com estimates that Toyota will sell 99,000 vehicles this month, giving it a market share of 12.6%, compared with 15.9% in February 2009. Ford is expected to sell 136,000 vehicles this month, giving it a market share of 17.3%, up from 14.6% a year ago.

-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry
 
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