Image is vitally important to car brands.
It's what makes people want your vehicles. A strong image leads to healthy brand perception, and that spreads. It even allows people to overlook the odd fault here and there, easing your company through rough patches.
Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has done much to cultivate its image over the past few years, and it's working: The brand has leaped into the top ten in Consumer Reports' annual Car Brand Perception Survey.
Despite a few stumbles in 2013, Tesla's highs are clearly higher than its lows are low. Excellent reviews, industry-leading crash test ratings, awards, high stock prices and more have worked wonders for its brand perception, jumping it from a 47-point rating in last year's survey to 88 points and fifth place this year.
That puts it just behind strongly-established brands like chart-topping Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet.
Consumer Reports says Tesla's jump is representative of a brand able to do multiple things well, rather than just majoring in one or two perception categories.
Vehicles are scored in several areas, based on how important they are to consumers when buying a new car. These include quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style and technology/innovation.
Tesla ranked highly in all areas, but made particular strides this year in fuel economy, design/style and even topped the table in technology/innovation--perhaps not surprisingly. Toyota still maintains its lead in fuel economy thanks to the unshakeable Prius, while Chevrolet--aided by the Corvette Stingray and Camaro, but also by the Volt--tops the performance charts.
It's worth noting that Consumer Reports' perception survey is solely based on perception and not on the products themselves. Positive and negative publicity holds sway here, rather than the competence of the vehicles, their actual reliability or customer satisfaction.
There, electric vehicles indisputably top the tables: In 2013, Tesla's Model S ranked highest in customer satisfaction, and Chevrolet's Volt had done likewise in the two previous years.
In time, the influence of thousands of happy owners will undoubtedly start to influence brand perception too--so we wouldn't be surprised if Tesla climbs higher up the rankings in next year's survey.