Toyota's gas-pedal problem has put a dent in the automaker's reputation, with a 15-point drop in favorable opinions of the car-making giant and nearly a quarter of likely car-buyers saying the situation makes them less apt to consider a new Toyota in the future.
But it could be worse: A sizable majority of Americans in an ABC News poll still rate Toyota favorably overall, even if its numbers have dropped. Most see the problem as an isolated incident not related to broader quality, and most regard a federal investigation as unnecessary.
In a bottom-line measure, 63 percent express a favorable opinion of Toyota. Toyota's challenge is that this is less than the 78 percent in a Pew Research poll in 2007. Although still mostly positive, that's a significant drop in favorability, a basic measure of public popularity.
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Similarly, the good news for the company is that 72 percent see the gas-pedal problem as an isolated incident and just as many say it'll have no effect on whether they consider a new Toyota. But there's a flip side, noteworthy because small shifts in market share can have major impacts. Twenty-one percent think the issue does indicate broader problems with the quality of Toyota cars, and 22 percent say it makes them less likely to buy one; 10 percent, "much" less likely.
The results are similar among the subset of Americans who say they're very likely to buy a new car in the next five years, a population of particular interest to automakers. In this group, 26 percent see the gas-pedal recall as a sign of broader quality problems with Toyotas and 24 percent say it makes them less likely to buy a new one, including 12 percent "much" less likely.
The poll was completed Sunday. Toyota is attempting to push beyond the controversy, this morning announcing a fix to the pedal problem and a pledge to accomplish the retrofit rapidly. In a sidewalk interview with ABC News, the company's U.S. president denied foot-dragging in acting on the problem.
Perhaps best for Toyota is that given current knowledge, there's no broad demand for a government inquiry. Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the ABC News poll favor a federal investigation to determine whether the company acted quickly enough after learning of problems with its vehicles, while most, 56 percent, think it's unnecessary. (There's notable partisanship here. Perhaps given their differing perceptions of the effectiveness of government, Democrats divide evenly on an investigation, while Republicans oppose it by a 40-point margin.)
Differences among groups likewise carry some mixed messages for Toyota. Its favorability rating is considerably lower among senior citizens, which is less of a problem because they're less likely to be in the new-car market. And the company's rated favorably especially by higher-income adults, who are more apt to be looking.
But other results are less reassuring. Younger adults, who may be imprinting brand loyalties, are most likely to see the issue as a sign of broader problems with Toyota cars, 31 percent say so. Adults under age 30 also are more apt to say the incident makes them less likely to consider a new Toyota in the future.
METHODOGLOGY: This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 28-31, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,012 adults. Results for the full sample have a 4-point error margin; click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Social Science Research Solutions at ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.