Many consumers who are finally ready to buy a new vehicle after waiting out the recession are up for grabs.
The longer an owner keeps a vehicle, the more likely the owner is to replace it with a product from a competing brand, according to data from R.L. Polk & Co. The decline in loyalty, though gradual with each passing year, means that many automakers and dealers will need to work harder to retain customers.
Job losses, wage cuts and general economic uncertainty in recent years caused many people to delay buying a new car or truck. Leasing, which puts buyers back in the market every two or three years, became almost nonexistent during the downturn.
As a result, Polk says the average American now keeps a new vehicle for about six years, up from around four years before 2007.
"They're almost like a first-time buyer when they return to market, and they become a conquest opportunity," says Brad Smith, director of Polk's loyalty management practice. "It's going to be a situation where everyone's going to be scrambling for every tenth of a point of market share as these customers are returning to market."
Polk's latest data show that 46.2 percent of consumers who go three years between buying new vehicles choose the same manufacturer for their next purchase. Loyalty rates decline steadily for each additional year, dropping to 39.8 percent at nine years.
Adding to that trend, dealers and analysts say they have seen more consumers willing to cross-shop domestic and import brands recently, particularly after last year's earthquake in Japan caused vehicle shortages at many U.S. dealerships.