Ford Motor. Co. almost swept this year's Polk Automotive Household Loyalty Awards, finishing first in seven out of nine categories.
Nine months into the 1998 model year, GM led in four categories. But when two UAW strikes created a shortage of most models, more than 36,000 GM owners defected during the last quarter of the model year.
Karen Piurkowski, Polk's director of loyalty, said GM's customer retention rate fell from a peak of 71 percent last spring to 59 percent in the fourth quarter of the model year.
In the study, a loyal customer is one who repurchased or re-leased the same make, model or corporate brand during the 1998 model year.
A bright spot for GM is that the Buick Century led the mid-sized car segment, beating out the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry.
DaimlerChrysler Corp., the North American operations of DaimlerChrysler AG, experienced an exodus of owners. Its loyalty rate dropped from 54 percent for the first nine months of the model year to 42 percent for the fourth quarter.
Piurkowski could not say why DaimlerChrysler's customer retention rate dropped, but Ford Division benefited.
DaimlerChrysler owners buying Fords increased from 10 percent to 14 percent in the fourth quarter of the 1998 model year.
In the fourth quarter, GM owners switching to Fords increased from 7.4 percent during the first nine months of the model year to 12.5 percent.