But the quarterly survey of 273 pickup truck shoppers about brands they would consider also shows that models from Toyota and Honda get a lift from their parents' reputations for fuel efficiency and durability.
Toyota is in the midst of its largest U.S. launch in history for the 2008 Tundra pick-up, and the KBB research suggests it will need to market heavily to crack the truck market.
Ford, meanwhile, has relied on its F-150 pick-up to shore up sagging U.S. sales, but may need to look closer at GM. Its Chevrolet Silverado recently won Pick-Up Truck of the Year honors at the North American International Auto Show, and seems to be the pick-up truck buyer's model of choice, according to KBB.
Wes Brown, of IceOlogy, a Los Angeles-based consultancy, said overall brand reputation is becoming important within the pick-up market because those who are driving growth in the segment aren't loyalists, or hard-core truckers.
"The growth within the segment has been with the more casual pick-up driver, who isn't so wedded to any particular brand and instead has looked at the total package--styling, pricing, features, brand image, and respectability," he said, adding that recalls won't have an immediate impact. "The initial buyers--for the first six months--are loyalists, then brand image starts to come in."
The study also awarded the strongest pick-up brand loyalty to GMC, with second place a tie between Chevrolet and Toyota. Toyota Tundra and Honda Ridgeline ranked high for perception of their durability and fuel efficiency--factors that KBB reported were the most important among truck buyers--more important than such traditional features as towing capacity and functionality.
Toyota was perceived as having the best durability, and Honda as having the best fuel efficiency. But GMC was a close second. Dodge was a distant third with its Ram pickup. Brown notes that Toyota's decision to market the mid-sized pickup as physically indestructible with ads showing it being dropped by gigantic robotic devices will help, as does the new Tundra's aggressive, fist-like exterior design.
Still, imports hold just a sliver of the truck market. While Toyota--whose truck sales dropped a little more than 1% last year--sold 124,508 Tundras in 2006, General Motors sold more than 1 million pickups. Ford, meanwhile, sold 901,463.