Best car brands: Tesla Motors surges in Consumer Reports ranking

Best Car Brands rankings from Consumer Reports in 2014 saw a big jump for electric carmaker Tesla Motors, which surged from 11th to fifth place. The annual best car brands survey ranks public perception of automakers, and the top spots went to traditional automakers like Toyota and Ford. 

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters/File
A man looks at Tesla Motors' Model S P85 at its showroom in Beijing last month. Tesla jumped from fifth to 11th in a survey released today by Consumer Reports that ranks what consumers view as the best car brands.

In the grand scheme of things, relatively few Americans own Tesla Motors cars. But more and more of them have nice things to say about them. 

The electric car company's quest to become a respected household name is going quite well, according to an annual survey released today by Consumer Reports that ranks what consumers view as the best car brands. This year, Tesla Motors was the fifth-best perceived car brand among American car owners, surging from 11th place last year. The automakers that ranked higher are well-established, traditional makes: Toyota ranked first among best car brands, followed by Ford, Honda, and General Motors' Chevrolet, respectively. 

"The brand to watch is Tesla Motors, which jumped from 47 points last year, to fifth position and 88 points this year," Consumer Reports said in its write-up of the survey. "Tesla had a strong, very public year, with soaring stock prices, magazine awards, sterling crash-test performance, and even claiming the spot as the top-rated car by Consumer Reports. Innovation, performance, and sleek styling is clearly gaining attention and making a positive impression. By accumulating points in several categories, Tesla was able to raise its overall score. This highlights the value of being good at multiple things, rather than relying on a single facet." 

The survey was conducted among 1,700 randomly selected car owners, who were asked rank seven aspects of the car-buying experience in order of importance: design and style, performance, quality, safety, technology and innovation, value, and fuel economy. From there, each participant named the brand that they felt was the top performer in each category. Toyota for instance, did well in innovation and fuel economy.

Consumer Reports, among the most well-respected voices in auto industry evaluation, was careful to point out that the survey hinged entirely on public perception, which can be swayed by marketing and word-of-mouth, among other things. "Often, perception can be a trailing indicator, reflecting years of good or bad performance in a category, and it can also be swayed by headlines, such as Subaru and Tesla garnering awards, or brands being caught in widespread recalls, such as Honda, Jeep, and Toyota," the report warned. 

But it's a huge coup for Tesla, and an indication that a recent spate of news about post-crash fires did little to tarnish the brand's shining image. It's been a good week so far Elon Musk's company: Yesterday, Tesla stock hit an all-time high after China's finance minister announced that subsidies for electric cars in the country would be higher than originally expected. 

Back in the US, Tesla's campaign to become a household name is going better than ever – you can even spot a Model S zipping around Juan-Pablo Galavais and his rotating cast of potential wives on the current season of ABC's reality dating show "The Bachelor." 

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