Since the depths of our recent recession, Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM) emerged with two very different brand images. The latter could be forever tarnished as whispers of "Government Motors" will remain for years, while its crosstown rival Ford has been cheered as the hero automaker that didn't take taxpayer money in a government-structured bailout. That positive image for Ford, and its recent launches of new vehicles, have won over the American consumer.

Buzz-worthy
In today's information age, where we're constantly bombarded by advertisements, some of the best impressions we get are still from those we trust – word of mouth from friends and family.

In a survey by BrandIndex, Ford ranks No. 1, and it competitors aren't even close. The BrandIndex methodology is simple yet effective in determining public perception of brands. The survey asks respondents: "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, and was it positive or negative?" Here's how the results ended up:

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Information via BrandIndex mid-year survey.

Ford pretty much dominated the field, backing up previous notions that word of mouth about Ford's better vehicles and brand image is still riding high with American consumers. It should be noted that the two most improved scores from the same time period last year are Chevrolet and General Motors. That doesn't mean that America is ready to forgive GM, it just means you can only fall so far – consider that last year's GM score was 0.1 and now it sits at 4.3, according to BrandIndex.

With such positive word of mouth, and better vehicles to boot, you can expect to see Ford's retention of customers surge as well:

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Information via R.L. Polk & Co

Ford is the only brand to break 60% in the first quarter; if consumers keep coming back, spreading the positive word to friends, it will become a virtuous cycle for the company. I'd bet that it's a good reason that Ford's market share increased by a full percentage point this year in the U.S. market – more than any other full-line automaker. A percentage point doesn't sound like much, but in an industry where a fraction of a percentage point is huge, this is big news for Ford and its investors.

Bottom line
American consumers are raving about Ford – that's evident in just about any survey out there. It's also evident in sales gains, profits, and in the increase of returning customers. If Ford continues down this path it could very well surpass General Motors for the sales lead in the U.S. market – where the companies derive a majority of their profits.

Even better, if Ford can replicate this success overseas, then it could spell out a very great success story through the rest of this decade. Ford's market share and sales are exploding in China, and it's gaining market share and sales volume in Europe where the overall market is still tanking. There's a ton of momentum right now for Ford and it looks to get better with a strong second-quarter report on deck next week. If you're worried you missed the boat on Ford I think there's still plenty of room to run for the company and its investors.

Fool contributor Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.