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According to new research from Mintel, the experts in what consumers want and why, there’s no love lost between Americans and automakers as consumer loyalty is minimal at best. Mintel research shows that US consumers are split on the idea of being loyal to one auto brand: 31% agree, 34% disagree, and 35% aren’t sure where they stand. However, over two-fifths (44%) of consumers say they are looking to change automakers for their next vehicle.

When considering the reasons why consumers are switching, poor vehicle experience (35%) is the top reason why they say they won’t purchase their next vehicle from the car brand they currently own. Other reasons include: newer technology (32%), cost (26%), and personal lifestyle change (eg having children) (23%). What’s more, given that emotion plays a big role in the car buying process, more than half (53%) of consumers say they feel that their needs are not being understood by car manufacturers, causing them to be brand disloyal.

Hannah Keshishian, Automotive Analyst, Mintel says:

“What consumers want from automakers is the same thing they want from any relationship: trust, transparency, understanding, and reliability. Our research shows that many Americans are switching to different auto brands because they say their vehicle isn’t reliable and brands do not understand their needs. However, loyalty is a priority for automakers; they make huge investments to ensure consumers are repurchasing their vehicles. To clear this divide and create more opportunities for consumer loyalty to take root, automakers must actively work to meet consumers’ needs, demonstrate that they are invested in building a better relationship, and fix some of the systemic issues.”

How can automakers win consumer loyalty?

All hope is not lost for automakers as Mintel research indicates certain criteria will help drive consumer loyalty. Top among them is low vehicle maintenance, with 75% of consumers saying this is their top priority when buying a new car.

Manufacturers should also pay special attention to Gen Z* and Millennial** car buyers: 61% of Gen Zs and 64% of Millennials say that if they feel that a car manufacturer understands their needs they would be brand loyal. At the moment, however, if Millenials are going through a lifestyle change such as getting married, having kids, or buying a home, more than a third (34%) say that would encourage them to purchase a different auto brand than their current vehicle.

“With Millennials being more likely to switch brands when they are going through a lifestyle change such as buying a house or having their first, or next, child, car manufacturers need to clearly demonstrate to this highly-coveted demographic that their vehicles can grow and mature with Millennials’ ever-changing needs.

“We know that many consumers feel a special bond with their vehicles, with some giving their car a name or saying that it feels like a second home. Given the important role that emotion plays in the consumer-car relationship, auto brands should lean into these feelings of emotional attachment in their advertisements to show consumers that they are in tune with consumers’ feelings and there is a shared understanding,” continued Keshishian.

Consumers want to be brand loyal

Despite the fact that other factors outrank brand loyalty for many US car owners, the desire for brand loyalty is there. In fact, more than half (55%) say they would prefer to be loyal to one auto brand. However, consumers don’t think that or don’t know if automakers care whether or not they are loyal (55%). Reliability (77%) is at the top of the list for what consumers say leads them to repurchase from the same brand. Pointing again to the role emotion plays, over half (53%) of female consumers said that they would be brand loyal to an automaker if they felt like the brand understood their needs.

“Consumers and auto brands both need to show they’re invested. If consumers believe that automakers don’t care about their loyalty, then it’s just one more reason to not become brand loyal. Car manufacturers need to break away from the industry status quo and doing things simply because that’s how they’ve always been done; implementing a consumer-first mindset is the first step to developing brand loyalty. Manufacturers need to be better at addressing consumer needs, making consumers feel understood, and showing that they are reliable through better service at every point in the car buying process,” concluded Keshishian.

 

*Mintel defines the Gen Z generation as individuals aged 13-25 in 2020.
**Mintel defines the Millennial generation as individuals aged 26-43 in 2020.