How competitive is today's automotive market?
Total Car Score recently averaged all the car ratings from every manufacturer to create a "manufacturer score." The idea was simple: the higher an automaker's models score across their entire line up, the higher the overall manufacturer's score will be. This means automakers that rely on only a few star players to establish their brand's reputation would score lower than brands with a solid (but not stellar) comprehensive product offering.
What we found is that even 2012's strongest brand, Infiniti, is only three points ahead of the number 12 brand, Hyundai. Put simply, the automotive market is more competitive than it's ever been before, with every manufacturer providing highly desirable products across their entire line. And who would have guessed that brands like Chrysler and Buick would make the top 10 given their image and financial status just a few years ago? Ford and Cadillac also landed in the top half of the rankings (numbers 15 and 16 out of 32 ranked brands, right behind Porsche). It may be too optimistic to call 2012 the year of recovery in the car world, but it's the strongest year since 2007, and one that sees the domestics doing quite well on every metric (sales, market share, vehicle ratings, etc). But while the U.S. brands have gotten undeniably stronger, the European, Japanese and Korean brands have remained strong (even given last year's tragic tsunami in Japan). Toyota is roaring back, Nissan is gaining ground, and Hyundai and Kia (two brands that made the top 12 in our ranking) have never commanded more market share and buyer respect.
What does this mean for the future? Well, beyond the likelihood of increased competition and tighter rankings, it means a vast spectrum of simply fabulous cars for consumers to choose from. The technology embedded in modern cars allows everything from full iPod integration to automatic cruise control that almost removes the need for driver participation (for better or worse...). And the styling we're seeing on even mainstream, volume sellers like the 2012 Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima mean even family sedans are double-take worthy. Combine this with a car-driving population that has been stuck in the same car for 5-10 years and it's easy to see why car sales have skyrocketed in 2012, despite a still queasy economy.
The automobile industry can't save the U.S. economy by itself, but it's certainly done more than it's fair in recent months. If we can fully break out of our economic woes the cars waiting in showrooms will be a great excuse to spend money again. Expect a car-buying frenzy like we haven't seen since the end of World War II.
The best models ever offered are out there, ready and waiting. Let's hope we all have a reason (and the ability) to buy them sooner than later.