Studies analyze automobile loyalty

A recent study conducted by Polk and AutoTrader.com found brand affinity to be the No. 1 driving factor behind customers' loyalty to vehicles.

A recent study conducted by Polk and AutoTrader.com found brand affinity to be the No. 1 driving factor behind customers' loyalty to vehicles.

The companies conducted customer satisfaction research among nearly 1,500 U.S. luxury car buyers, looking at six core brands: Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.

"Understanding behaviors and attitudes is critical in helping automotive marketers to more effectively reach and influence luxury shoppers during their decision making process,"
said Rick Wainschel, Vice President of Automotive Insights at AutoTrader.com. "Because of this, we sought to take a more in-depth look at why this specific set of buyers was either staying with or defecting from their brands to help uncover opportunities that manufacturers and dealers could take advantage of or threats that they could mitigate."

While brand affinity was cited as the most common reason (44 percent) luxury loyalists (those who purchase a replacement vehicle from the same brand they already own) return, quality and reliability (33 percent) and driving performance (24 percent) were not far behind. Price and design each registered 16 percent.

Researchers also aimed to discover why loyalists became defectors. Price was the number one reason for switching brands, as cited by 24 percent of respondents. Size came in at 20 percent, brand affinity at 17 percent, a general "time to change" at 14 percent and driving percent at 13 percent.

"This study illuminated important differences for staying loyal or defecting from luxury brands and how those key drivers of loyalty and defection are different for each luxury brand," said Mark Pauze, Senior Solutions Consultant with Polk. He added that the insights gained from the study will help luxury brands strategize better on how to improve customer retentions and attract new buyers.

A similar report conducted in October by Experian Automotive analyzed brand affinity, and found that among luxury automakers, Mercedes-Benz had the most loyal customers with 34.8 percent returning to the brand in 2011. BMW followed at 31.7 percent, and then Porsche (23 percent) and Jaguar (16 percent).

Kia led all non-luxury vehicles with a 48 percent loyalty rate. Its Forte compact sedan topped the list of models, as 68 percent of customers came back for more. Ford was close behind at 46.5 percent, while Chevrolet, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda all hovered around 40 percent.