As Toyota executives prepare to face another congressional grilling Tuesday, separate surveys are documenting the effect the recall episode is having on the carmaker's image: significant, but not devastating.
Telephone surveys by Consumer Reports magazine and the auto market analysis firm CNW Research found brand loyalty and purchase intentions slipped from last year as Toyota announced recalls now totaling more than 8 million cars - a number that could rise if more Corollas have to be recalled for a possible steering problem now under federal investigation.
And the Web site Cars.com said the Toyota Camry, the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. last year by far, fell from first to fifth in consumer interest, now behind the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. There were similar declines in interest in Corollas.
"It's clear that the constant government and media scrutiny of safety issues with the various recalled Toyota products has affected which vehicles consumers are considering on Cars.com," the Web site's editor in chief, Patrick Olsen, said.
Consumer Reports said that, in a random survey in early February of 1,832 U.S. adults, 12 percent said they were "most likely" to purchase a Toyota next time they need a vehicle, down from 16 percent last year. Purchase intentions for Honda and Nissan rose slightly during the period.
Among current owners, 60 percent said in February they would most likely buy a Toyota, down from 70 percent in December. "Despite the attention Toyota has received due to safety concerns, the overall impact on the brand integrity in the eyes of the consumer was less than one may have anticipated," the magazine said, though it added Toyota's troubles aren't over.
CNW said its survey of 80,000 people planning to buy a new car found that 7 percent of Toyota intenders had changed their minds, based on word-of-mouth and Internet chatter prior to Jan. 21, the day of Toyota's largest recall, involving eight models. By Feb. 18, that percentage was more than 9 percent as Toyota's troubles deepened. Still, CNW said, "the vast majority of Toyota intenders - both short and long term - are still considering one of the brand's models."
Three Toyota executives are to appear Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee.