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Toyota cements lead, Tesla rises in brand perception survey

DETROIT, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp cemented its lead in an annual survey of consumer perceptions of car brands released on Wednesday, while Tesla Motors Inc shot up the ranks on the strength of the design and crash-test performance of its Model S electric car.

Toyota gained five points for a total 25-point advantage over Ford Motor Co, which climbed one spot to second place, according to the survey conducted by Consumer Reports magazine in December 2013. Tesla leapt to fifth place from the 11th spot.

The rankings are based on the number of times a consumer polled in the survey mentioned a specific brand as the best in seven categories, including quality, safety and performance.

Toyota's reputation for making fuel-efficient cars gave the brand a boost. It also replaced Honda Motor Co in quality, the most heavily weighted category in the survey.

"Across all seven factors, Toyota was considered a leader more often than any other brand," Consumer Reports said.

Toyota and Ford had strong results across the board. But in the technology/innovation category, electric car maker Tesla dominated, replacing Toyota as the leader.

Consumer Reports called the Tesla Model S "a rolling showcase for vanguard technology" and cited its electric-only range of more than 225 miles and large touch-screen controls.

In the overall rankings, Honda Motor Co dropped down to the No. 3 spot, ceding the No. 2 spot to Ford. General Motors Co's Chevrolet brand maintained fourth place. Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, leapt to sixth place from No. 13.

Brand perception is affected by word of mouth, marketing and personal experience. It is often a lagging indicator reflecting a brand's history in a particular category. Consumer Reports collected data from 1,764 adults in households that had at least one car between December 6-15 for the survey.

The results suggest concerns about Toyota's safety record have faded since it recalled nearly 19 million vehicles globally over unintended acceleration claims starting in late 2009.

Toyota also boasted the best loyalty of any other brand, but its advantage over Ford and Honda shrank slightly. Consumers shopping for a new car are most likely to buy a Ford vehicle, followed by models made by Toyota, Chevrolet and Honda.

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