For Car Buyers, the Brand Romance Is Gone

For Car Buyers, the Brand Romance Is Gone http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/business/21auto.html?_r=1
DETROIT — To sell a car in the 1980s, dealers had to do little more than
open their doors, and loyal buyers would show up to trade in their Chevrolet for a new Chevrolet, or their Toyota for another Toyota.
Nearly four in five Americans were repeat buyers back then, staunchly faithful to brands that they knew, trusted and were part of their self-image. The allegiance often continued through generations of families, like party affiliations in politics.
Now, partly as a result of increasingly fickle consumer tastes and the industry turmoil in Detroit, that hard-won loyalty is largely gone.
So far this year, only about 20 percent of car shoppers stayed with the same brand when they purchased a new vehicle, according to a study by the Oregon-based firm CNW Marketing Research.
As a result, the industry is seeing the kind of churn it hasn’t witnessed since Japanese manufacturers began making inroads in the American market more than 30 years ago.
“The days when people bought a Toyota car or a General Motors product for 25 years are over,” said Art Spinella, CNW’s president. “There really isn’t any brand loyalty any more.”
Chris Allen is a case in point. Mr. Allen, 24, grew up in a suburb north of Detroit. His father works for an auto supplier, and his family’s garage was always full of G.M. products.
“We had Saturns, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and a string of Chevys,” said Mr. Allen. “My first two vehicles were hand-me-downs — a GMC Sonoma and a Pontiac Grand Am.”
After graduating from Michigan State University, Mr. Allen moved to Los Angeles, where he works for a market research firm. And when he bought his first car, he chose a Volkswagen GTI.
“If G.M. produced a vehicle I wanted, it would have been at the top of my list,” he said. “But they don’t.”
Just five years ago, Chevrolet and Ford sat comfortably atop the United States market, each with more than a 16 percent share. Chrysler had three brands — Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep — in the top 10.
Today, the Toyota brand leads the pack with slightly more than 14 percent, followed by Ford, Chevrolet, and the Honda and Nissan brands. The Chrysler brand and G.M.’s soon-to-be-discontinued Pontiac brand have fallen out of the Top 10 — replaced by two South Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia.
Each percentage-point movement represents tens of thousands of sales, and underscores how car buyers, armed with reams of data from the Internet, are comparison shopping as never before. And because most cars have become more reliable, choice becomes more a matter of taste.
“Brand loyalty has shrunk because of widespread improvements in the products,” said James Farley, Ford Motor Company’s head of marketing. “The ‘trust factor’ is more or less the same for most cars.”
This shift has enormous implications for the way automakers advertise.
In the glory days of Detroit’s Big Three, the companies and their advertising agencies invested heavily to market slogans that covered a wide range of products. Ad campaigns like Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America” and “Have You Driven a Ford Lately?” were used to market everything from small cars to big pickup trucks. Even Toyota followed suit with broad messages — “I Love What You Do for Me” — that covered everything it sold.
Now, one size no longer fits all. Toyota, for example, found that the rock-solid quality that made its Camry sedan the top-selling car in America did not lure many buyers to its full-size Tundra pickup.
“This is not the age anymore of meaningless slogans,” said Jack Trout, president of a consulting firm, Trout & Partners, in Old Greenwich, Conn. “What you’re after is differentiation of your products.”
Hyundai has carved out a 4 percent share of the American market because its vehicles are less expensive than Toyota’s but are perceived as just as reliable, said Mr. Spinella of CNW Marketing Research. The company differentiated itself further this year when it offered to take back cars if the owners lost their jobs and could not afford to make payments.
“Today, people are very focused on value,” said Jeremy Anwyl, president of the car-research Web site Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, Calif. “Hyundai took a unique position to address that.”
Ford tried to excite consumers with ads a few years ago that extolled its heritage. But the current marketing campaign for its fuel-efficient Fusion sedan does not even mention the Ford name until the end of the ad.
The lesson Ford learned, Mr. Farley said, is that today’s car buyer has little use for nostalgia.
“I can’t tell you how many car clubs I have been to where they own old Mustangs and vintage T-Birds, but they drive Camrys,” he said.
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Jim_Higgins wrote:

No doubt about the loss of romance.

Excuses. People are not that ficle, they learn to adapt after being shafted. Heck, the whole sales process is about screwing the customer, how much can you bilk out of the sucker. It is getting dry and in a time where net incomes are plumeting, havinf one car is more common than three. Many are making ends meet by buying less auto.
The very subsides and cost sof corruption bailout are reducing net incomes.

If they purchased at all.

I test drove a Tundra, it is one vehicle Detroit has right, the F150/250/350. People are getting smarter, purchasing the good and out with the BS and hype.

Yep, we in America see other countries getting autos for $2,500 to $12,000. Given lower average net incomes, less will be spent on autos, get the drift? North American auto is too expensive and people can't afford them any more now that the credit of the people and governmetns is zero.

Hm, just like Toyota and Honda used to do.

Yep.
A luxury they can no longer afford. Does Detroit take California IOUs?

Ditto my brother in-law. Has a 57 Chevy but drives a Honda.
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I always thought it was strange that vehicle buy will haggle for hours to get a portion of the average 15% markup that the dealership has on the average high volume vehicles, yet accept what ever price is asked on the numerous things they buy that have a 50% to 100% or MORE markup for the dealer, like clothing, large and small appliances, furniture etc. Those dealers will not even consider taking your "old one" in trade. At best they will haul it away for a price.
I LOVE used vehicle buyer! I have two daily drivers and I sell or trade them when they are two years old and buy another new vehicle every year for a relative few thousand dollars. The reason is some used car buyer is always willing to buy the vehicle I no longer want.
If I could only find people that would be willing to buy the appliances, furniture and clothing etc., that my wife no longer wants I could save a small fortune. LOL

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