Cars and Drivers

Car Brands with the Most Loyal Drivers

For some automakers, building a base of new customers is very important. These are often new brands with smaller market shares. For other automakers, often the more established, larger makes as well as luxury brands, getting customers to stick to the brand is the top priority.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed trade-in data from automotive online site for the first five months of this year. For five brands, more than half the people purchasing a car through trade in were trading in the same make. These five makes include mainstream brands such as Chevrolet, as well as smaller brands like Lexus. These are the five car brands with the most loyal drivers.

Click here to see the car brands with loyal customers

While maintaining a strong customer base is important, analyst Jeremy Acevedo explained that it is often important for automakers to have a good mix of people trading in other models to get their models, which is known as a conquest. “If your loyalty is too high, it could be that you’re not gaining enough customers. If your conquest is too high, you don’t have people sticking around your brands — you don’t have that repeat business.”

Three of these brands are among the largest in the country, which is one of the primary reasons their loyalty is so high. Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet had the fourth, third and second largest market share, respectively, as of May. Their many long-term, loyal customers typically far outweigh any new customers they might attract.

Some car types are also far more likely to keep customers loyal than others, and this is contributing to higher loyalty for brands such as Chevrolet. In the brand’s case, noted Acevedo, larger trucks represent a very large proportion of brand sales, “and large trucks is one of the most fiercely loyal segments.”

The other two brands on this list, Lexus and BMW, do not have the same high market share. Lexus is 18th in the United States for 2013, while BMW is 17th. However, these are both luxury brands, a segment that is much more likely to thrive on a smaller, loyal customer base. Acevedo explained that luxury brands like BMW often have incentives like loyalty leases. “If you already own a BMW, they have special incentives for you as a buyer to stick with the BMW family. That’s all part of their business model to get people in the door and keep them there.”

Some brands have very low loyalty simply because they are new. Ram and Fiat, for example, which are new brands in the United States, cannot have many people trading in models to get them because they were only introduced in the country in the past several years.

Based on data provided by, 24/7 Wall St. determined the five best brands for customer loyalty. Each of these brands generated at least half its trade-in sales from buyers that wanted to exchange one of the make’s vehicles for another. Sales and market share data also come from and are current as of May, 2013.

These are the car brands with the most loyal drivers.

5. Chevrolet
> Loyalty: 51.0%
> 2013 Sales: 821,674
> YTD sales growth: 5.1%
> 2013 market share: 12.8% (2nd largest)

Chevrolet has the highest customer loyalty of any American-owned car brand. While this means Chevrolet owners would repeatedly buy the brand, it also means that Chevrolet likely has the least new customers of any other American brand, relative to its size. Chevrolet is one of the largest car brands in the country. With the exception of Ford, no other brand approaches Chevrolet’s 821,674 in total vehicle sales in the United States through the first five months of this year. A large portion of the brand’s business is driven by sales of trucks, where consumers are usually especially loyal.

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4. Toyota
> Loyalty: 51.4%
> 2013 Sales: 787,836
> YTD sales growth: 4.7%
> 2013 market share: 12.3% (3rd largest)

Toyota is a large brand that relies heavily on loyalty, according to’s Acevedo. Based on recent sales figures, it appears Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) may need to improve its conquest sales, or sales from new clients. The brand’s sales rose by 2.1% through the first five months of the year, compared to the same period last year. However, U.S. car sales were up by more than 8% during that time. Toyota’s sales have been flat partly because sales of its top-selling sedans, including the Camry, have fallen as more Americans are making the transition to crossover SUVs.

3. BMW
> Loyalty: 51.7%
> 2013 Sales: 113,357
> YTD sales growth: 8.2%
> 2013 market share: 1.8% (17th largest)

BMW is one of the nation’s best-selling luxury brands, with more than 113,000 vehicles sold this year through May. The brand has strived to maintain a very strong, loyal customer base. The German brand competes fiercely with another German brand, Mercedes-Benz, which last year sold more vehicles in the United States, nearly 295,000, than BMW’s 281,460. This is on pace to continue this year as well, with Mercedes holding a healthy lead over BMW as of May. One possible problem may be that BMW generates too little of its sales from new customers. Just 48.3% of customers who trade-in for a BMW are new buyers, versus 53.5% for Mercedes-Benz.

2. Honda
> Loyalty: 52.4%
> 2013 Sales: 545,447
> YTD sales growth: 5.2%
> 2013 market share: 8.5% (4th largest)

Much like fellow Japanese auto brand Toyota, Honda is a large brand that relies heavily on loyalty, Edmunds’ Acevedo explained. And like Toyota, Honda sales are up this year, but by less than the U.S. auto market as a whole. Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) also is losing sales for its top-selling midsize sedan, the Civic. They are down by 4.5% through the first five months of the year, compared to the first five months of 2012. Despite the fact that crossover sales are up 13.9% through May compared to the same period last year, sales of the CR-V are also down. Sales of the make’s full-size sedan, the Accord, however, have grown by more than 20% over the same period.

1. Lexus
> Loyalty: 57.8%
> 2013 Sales: 97,060
> YTD sales growth: 10.2%
> 2013 market share: 1.5% (18th highest)

Lexus generates a market-leading 57.8% of sales from trade-ins from repeat customers, by far the most of any car brand in America. One possible reason consumers remain loyal is the strong brand value it has earned as a luxury automaker. But even with its strong customer loyalty, the brand has had constrained sales compared to other high-end automakers. Lexus sales fell by 6% between 2008 and 2012, even as sales of luxury brands Mercedes-Benz and Buick each grew more than 30% during that time.

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