BMW, Subaru, and Jaguar/Land Rover can skip their homework today and go out and play. They had the best grades in class. New car pricing, trends and forecasting site TrueCar.com has given those brands the best grades in April's Performance Scorecards, which rank manufacturers and brands on eight measurements including pricing, sales, incentives, customer loyalty, market share, and days in inventory.
Staying in school for detention are Mazda, Suzuki, and Volvo. By brand, the names that got the highest grades were BMW, Fiat, Kia, and Audi. The brands with the lowest grades were Mazda, Suzuki, and Volvo. When it came to most improved, BMW (from B- to A+), Volkswagen (B- to B+), GM (C+ to B), and Mazda (D+ to C) were most improved. Ford's grade, however, went from A+ to a B-, while Toyota went from a B+ to a B-. Mitsubishi went from B to C+ and Volvo dropped from C to D+. The comparisons are with last year's April. All grades are final.
School principal Jesse Toprak, head of industry analysis at TrueCar, tells Marketing Daily that the top five brands are imports, and that Ford should not be pushed off the dean's list for its grade drop, since the month last year was exceptional, and the company has been very conservative with incentive spend in a market that is much more competitive this year. He notes that automaker grades are on eight parameters, but that the biggest influences are sales retail sales or market share change.
"And Ford suffered quite a bit versus last year. They are having to discount more and their market share is going down in spite of that, but their incentive spending is in check," he says. "Ford may have to be more aggressive with incentive spend if they want to recapture some market share. Also, they really had a phenomenal recovery at this time last year, and this year they're cruising."
Toprak adds that nobody should threaten the automaker with the paddle. "They have the best portfolio, with the lowest reliance on trucks possibly in its history; their design, quality, safety and consumer perception is the best it has been in years."
So who should worry about getting expelled from the U.S. market? Toprak says it's the smaller manufacturers down the list, who don't have the marketing dollars to build consideration in a market that has seen the Korean automakers stake bigger and bigger positions across market segments and vehicle categories, resurgent domestic makes, and the Japanese brands in recovery mode after last year's natural disasters.
"Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Volvo had big declines in April, and Mazda is down there as well. And they don't have the share of voice to send their message, and on top of that they don't have the same access to resources in any part of their operations -- from manufacturing to R&D to marketing," says Toprak. "You can market all you want, but if they don't have enough compelling product to help word of mouth, it becomes harder for smaller brands to stand out."
Subaru is a relatively small-volume brand that has bucked that trend by having a strong brand proposition and loyal installed owner base. "They have found the right niche," notes Toprak, "especially in certain pockets of the country where they are the logical alternative to larger SUVS, and that's big enough to sustain them."