A survey released last week by the Kelley Blue Book found that 27% of car buyers considering a Toyota before the recalls are backing away from the brand. Jerking their knees even further, 49% of the defectors said they wouldn't consider a Toyota again. While these consumers may feel differently after a cooling-off period, their reaction is a firm reminder that customers will quickly switch allegiances for safety's sake.
"Product quality can damage a brand overnight, as we've seen in the Toyota example," says Jesse Toprak, an analyst for
. "You can get it right for many years and if you get one or two problems wrong, there go all your efforts."
While experts aren't advising against buying Toyotas during the recalls -- with
actually telling consumers how to safely navigate a Toyota purchase during this time -- Kelly is predicting a 2.5% to 4.5% drop in resale value for Toyota cars. Meanwhile,
are offering $1,000 incentives to Toyota owners to switch cars. If you're shopping for a new car or looking to ditch your Toyota, here are nine alternatives:
: 2007-2010 Toyota Camry
: 2010 Hyundai Sonata
Hyundai research on TrueCar.com rose 15% after the Toyota recalls while Toyota's dipped 30%. Part of Hyundai's surge has to do with a starting price that's $600 to $3,000 less than the Camry's and Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. But much of the attention should be credited to massive product and image enhancements since Hyundai first began selling cheap, boxy hatchbacks here more than 20 years ago.
"Back in 1995, I was working for a dealership that had a Hyundai franchise, and we couldn't get Hyundais financed through most banks because new Hyundais worth $10,000 would be worth $2,500 the next year," Toprak says. "They improved the product immensely while driving the message that you can get a good car for not a lot of money."
: 2009-2010 Toyota Corolla
: 2010 Hyundai Elantra
Yes, Hyundai again. While the Elantra gives up some ground in fuel economy, it comes in $1,300 to $1,500 cheaper.
puts the Elantra ahead on reliability and customer satisfaction, while Edmunds notes the Hyundai has more extensive warranty coverage and performed slightly better in crash testing.
: 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon
: 2010 Lincoln MKS
This category is twice as painful for Toyota, as its equivalent Lexus ES models were recalled for floor mat issues. While roughly $10,000 more expensive than the Avalon, the MKS is loaded with a lot more standard toys, including premium leather,
satellite radio, front-and-rear parking sensors and hard drive-based navigation.
: 2009-2010 Toyota Matrix
: 2010 Volkswagen Golf
With almost identical price, gas mileage and critical ratings, the Golf is the Matrix's more stylish twin. With just a bit more pop in its five-cylinder engine and four-wheel independent suspension, remote alarm, eight speakers and phone pre-wiring all standard, the Golf makes the Matrix as forgettable as sequels in the film series of the same name.
: 2009-2010 Rav4
: 2010 Subaru Forester
This is just really unfortunate for the Rav4, which had been battling the Forester for small SUV supremacy. Its relatively weak four-cylinder engine is offset by slightly better gas mileage, a price tag that's $3,000 to $4,000 less than the Toyota's and a whole lot of rugged yuppie appeal.
: 2010 Toyota Highlander
: 2010 Lexus RX 350
Sometimes the best alternative to a Toyota product is a Toyota product. Hidden behind the Lexus label is a Highlander loaded with the standard speed-proportional power steering, a wooden dashboard, alarm system and satellite radio that its cheaper cousin lacks. "If this problem happened five years ago, Toyota would have gotten away with a lot less damage because the viable options to Toyota were few and far between," Toprak says. "Now, the competition has come a long way and narrowed the gap in quality."
: 2008-2010 Toyota Sequoia
: 2010 Acura MDX
As the best-rated SUV that isn't a Toyota or Lexus, this "luxury" model somehow costs $6,000 to $8,000 less than a Sequoia. The Acura MDX also offers a better warranty, higher safety scores, hill-holding brakes and three free months of satellite radio. The gas mileage is slightly better, but in this category, that's like saying a box of Milk Duds is better for you than a packet of Twinkies.
: 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra
: 2010 Ford F-150
In terms of quality, it's almost a three-way tie between the Tundra, F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado 1500. If customers are wary of Toyota, they've been just as skeptical of the American automakers who took bailout money, critics say. Ford's Web traffic went up 12% after the Toyota recalls while Chevy's declined 3% and, fair or not, its resurgence hit at a time when both Toyota and GM are repairing their images.
"At the end of the day, product creates long-term success for automakers," Toprak says. "The product lineup that came out of Ford over the last couple of years has been the most compelling they've ever introduced."
: 2010 Toyota Prius
: 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI
There is no factory-made vehicle beyond an old GEO Metro or an original
Insight that can touch the Prius' mileage. The turbo diesel Golf, however, comes awfully close. With fuel efficiency of almost 40 miles per gallon, the Golf TDI drew raves from
for ride comfort, acceleration and safety features and earned an overall test rating that was eight points better than that of the Prius.
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.