Now that the U.S. auto manufacturing industry has been bailed out and restructured by government intervention, traditional customer allegiances are changing. The Big Three of old, GM, Ford and Chrysler, and their related “sub” marques have evolved into the “Big 2 ½ Plus One” today. Ford Motor Company didn’t take the bailout money and appears solid for now. General Motors (Chevrolet) took the handout and is still standing, if a bit wobbly. Chrysler is now at least partially foreign-owned by Italy’s Fiat brand and Toyota has emerged as a leading nameplate in the United States.

According to a recent Rasmussen Report, GM and Ford still remain as favorite choices, but Toyota has the edge as the brand most buyers would consider purchasing. The Rasmussen numbers also show that as confidence in domestic cars is waning, foreign car brands have gained significant ground with US buyers. It appears the government bailout money is going to cost some automakers more than just principal and interest.

Ford is still viewed as the domestic company most likely to remain solvent and profitable, but taking the stimulus money seems to have negatively impacted both GM and Chrysler in the minds of American car shoppers. Research shows that while 58% of buyers surveyed felt Ford will survive, only 19% felt that way about General Motors and only a measly 4% thought Chrysler has a chance of long-term profitability. When it comes to quality, it seems the bailout was a bitter pill and equals shoddy products in the minds of consumers, as over 41% of Americans think the quality of GM cars will decrease now that the government controls the company.

The new landscape of the domestic auto sales marketplace now shows Ford to be in second place with 35% of buyers considering a Ford automobile purchase. Toyota is the leader with 43% of potential purchasers considering that Japanese brand, and Honda is not far behind with a 36% consideration factor. Eroded buyer confidence really starts to show up with Chrysler being the only manufacturer with a single-digit “definite buy” number with just 4% of respondents saying they definitely will purchase that brand of vehicle. The figure is especially low when compared to the other Big Two with 35% of those surveyed saying they will purchase a Ford and 29% planning to buy a GM product.

Even though it has been less than a year since the big bailout, it appears to have created significant ripples in the allegiances and attitudes of the American buying public. In the case of the former Big Three US automakers, it seems to be a case of damned by the customers if you do take the loan, and damned by a lack of capital if you don’t.

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