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IRVINE, Calif. — Toyota has apparently been knocked off the top of Kelley Blue Book's Automotive Brand Indicator, which gauges brand strength based on a number of consumer perception- and behavior-related factors.

Coming in at No. 1 for the first quarter of 2010 is Ford, the "darling of the industry," as a KBB executive put it. 

Toyota has been pushed down to the second-place slot ahead of Chevrolet, Honda and Nissan, respectively.

The ABI is composed of brand consideration data, perception ratings on "factors of importance" used in KBB Market Intelligence's Brand Watch study, new-car shopper activity and leads data generated by Kbb.com traffic.
The data then undergoes an analytics modeling process.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, Toyota was first and Ford was No. 2, with the Nos. 3-5 spots the same as the most recent rankings (Chevrolet, Honda and Nissan).

"Toyota had a very tough first quarter this year due to the recall crisis, and the latest Automotive Brand Indicator results from Kelley Blue Book Market Intelligence reflect Toyota's struggles in all areas in which the ABI tracks," explained James Bell, executive market analyst for KBB and Kbb.com. 

"Meanwhile, Ford is the darling of the industry right now with exciting new product and marketing initiatives, and undoubtedly they were able to overtake the top spot in Q1 2010 due to problems Toyota experienced at the time," he added.

That said, it's not all bad news for Toyota. The automaker is steadily making progress in how it is perceived by consumers.  

The automaker "is slowly crawling back into consumer‘s good graces, especially with its continued enticing incentive offers," Bell noted. "Even if Toyota reclaims its top position in Q2 2010, the fight to see who is king of the hill has certainly gotten more crowded."

KBB ranked 37 brands in total. Rounding out the top 10 were Hyundai at No. 6, Dodge in seventh, GMC at No. 8 and BMW ranked ninth. Lexus was No. 10.

Conversely, Smart was at the bottom of the list, with Scion, Saab, Hummer and Suzuki making up the rest of the bottom five, respectively.

Explaining the ABI in more detail, officials said it basically is a standardized gauge summarizing how specific automakers are viewed by consumers. It can show a comparison of a brand's perception and performance against the overall market and its competitors.

Automakers can also employ the ABI as a "diagnostic tool" to help them figure out areas in which they need to improve.

Furthermore, brands can also use it to gauge which areas their marketing efforts should be concentrated.

"While some companies may track various forms of consideration, shopper activity or leads, Kelley Blue Book Market Intelligence's all-new Automotive Brand Indicator is revolutionary in that it adds in consumer perception data from surveys and provides the additional advantage of showing an automakers' performance relative to both the market and competition," shared Rick Wainschel, senior vice president of market intelligence and brand strategy for Kbb.com. 

"The ABI results combined with detailed analysis from Kelley Blue Book's Market Intelligence and Advanced Analytics teams can help automakers gain a better understanding of where their brand stands in the marketplace, strategically hone their marketing plans and, ultimately, improve new-car sales," he added.