Car buyers don’t switch brands easily. Seventy-three percent of car buyers said they were somewhat or very likely to purchase the same make they currently drive the next time they shop for a new car, according to a new Consumer Reports survey. But if they were to change brands, most respondents said that higher quality, better fuel economy, and a lower price are the three biggest factors that would influence their decision. These are among the findings from a telephone survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center using a nationally representative sample. More than 1,700 interviews were completed among adults whose household owns at least one vehicle over April 29-May 3, 2010.

Full results of the survey are available at Updated daily, is the go-to site for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information.

The brand loyalists:

“A buyer’s attachment to a brand, for example, can vary significantly by gender and age,” said Jeff Bartlett, Deputy Editor Online, Consumer Reports Cars. “Possible reasons younger drivers could be influenced more readily include changing lifestyles, less experience with a given brand, greater peer influence, and being more trend-conscious.”

Women are notably more likely to be brand loyal than men, with 54 percent compared to 43 percent stating they are very likely to purchase another car of the same make as they currently own. The same is true for older drivers. Among drivers 35 and older, at least 50 percent plan to stick with the brand they already own. Only 41 percent of drivers aged 18 to 34 years old felt the same way. CR also found that household income does not play a role in car brand loyalty. Affluent consumers and those of modest means were nearly equal in their attachment to a brand.

What moves buyers to switch:

When presented with 13 potential factors to entice car owners to change their brand allegiance, the top choices were clearly higher quality and better fuel economy, as shown in the following list. The percent of respondents who could be influenced to change car brands based on specific factors.

  • Higher quality: 75%
  • Better fuel economy: 73%
  • Lower price: 67%
  •  Better safety record: 65%
  •  More standard equipment: 62%
  • Better overall reputation: 61%
  • Lower-cost financing: 57%
  • Free maintenance:     57%
  • Generous trade-in allowance: 57%,
  • Bigger cash rebate: 48%
  • Local dealership reputation: 47%
  • Better styling: 46%
  • Convenient dealership location: 37%.

Men and women weigh those factors differently. Women are most drawn to better fuel economy (76 percent), a better safety record (72 percent), and more standard equipment (65 percent). Men share similar priorities, though the percent of men influenced by these factors was lower. As with the other demographic groups, quality and fuel economy are the most significant influences for the 18 to 34 year-old segment. However, with many factors the younger consumers are not as susceptible to influence. Again, household income does not reveal a difference in the impact of many potentially brand-changing factors.

In looking at the factors above, it’s clear that automakers can have more influence in shaping brand loyalty than dealers. In fact, manufacturers have direct control over all of the factors that influence more than 60 percent of consumers. A dealer’s influence on the top factors is mostly limited to how they advertise and pitch a vehicle in the showroom. Where the dealership carries sway is with the other factors, such as its customer-service reputation and financial dealings.

The bottom line

Overall, these survey respondents are attracted to the highest quality and most value for the money. But it’s clear that car owners are being pragmatic in their approach to their next new car. The reigning influences are those that can save money up front, at the pump, and in the long run. When probed, the majority of respondents identified just what factors would persuade them change brands. CR hopes that when making a car-buying decision that consumers use the myriad tools and information sources available, including, to check the latest test data, reliability, owner satisfaction, and owner costs to ensure their brand perceptions match today’s reality.

With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site and owns and operates a 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut. The organization’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645 or visit


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