How does Consumer Reports justify rating without testing?
For many years, American auto industry advocates have accused Consumer’s Union and its Consumer Reports publication of being biased against domestic American brands. It’s been said that if the identical car were manufactured by Toyota and Chevrolet, CR would rate the Toyota above the Chevy simply based on nameplate. But Consumer Reports always claimed it was nothing but the soul of objectivity.
Now it turns out they were dissembling, if not outright lying, about their objectivity – and their standards. Consumer Reports has been recommending the Toyota brand without bothering to test it or even have any data about reliability to back up the recommendation.
Yesterday, Consumer Reports announced that the newest Toyota – the Camry – had below average reliability, and that the brand had clearly slipped in its quality. The magazine appears to have been the last to know, as the J. D. Powers surveys have shown Toyota slipping in quality for the past two years and the recall data has similarly shown problems at Toyota. Perhaps it had escaped notice at Consumer Reports, but last year Toyota recalled more cars than it sold in this country.
Buried, however, in that announcement was the disclosure that Consumer Reports had been recommending Toyota models without testing them and without possessing any frequency of repair or reliability data. They had, until yesterday, been recommending the cars simply because they were Toyotas.
Today, perhaps coincidentally, Toyota recalled 470,000 cars sold in Japan. The cars have various engine and steering problems.
But, perhaps Consumer Reports should be recalled, as well.
It now becomes abundantly clear that those who accused the magazine of bias were correct. Toyota could, at least in the eyes of Consumer Reports, do no wrong. The magazine took the Toyota brand on faith, and admits it recommended the brand based solely on its past reputation.
Sure, for a magazine that built its reputation on ostensibly even-handed testing and made its name in automotive testing by compiling data about past reliability to recommend a person spend $20,000 or $30,000 simply by brand name, is deceptive. Consumer Reports has not only let down its readers, it has betrayed their trust.
But it has also exposed itself as sloppy, arrogant, and out of touch. Toyota’s quality problems have been in the news for two years. Its skyrocketing recall rate has been reported in ordinary news outlets, not just auto magazines and website. The J. D. Powers rankings, in particular, have been widely publicized. None of that, though, made a dent in the mentality at the Consumer’s Union.
Consumer Reports admission that it had been recommending Toyota merely because of the brand name is an admission that the magazine’s critics have been right, all along. It is also an admission that the magazine cannot be trusted, that it acts on the basis of what it wants to believe, not what it knows to be true.
Pity the poor subscriber to Consumer Reports that bought a new Camry because CR recommended it. Not only does he have a car that’s below average in reliability, by the time he goes to sell it or trade it in, it’s probably going to be below average in resale price, as well.
And to think – the guy might’ve been better of buying a Ford.