How COVID Impacted the Most Popular Vehicles & Brand Loyalty

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The year 2020 will go down as one of the strangest years ever. It seemed many things changed last year – from how we work, to how we shop, and even what we wear. But when it comes to the brand of cars we like, that hasn’t changed.

Vehicle owners chose the familiar and remained loyal to their current brand as they shopped for new cars during the pandemic lockdowns. Most vehicle shoppers chose to stick with their current dealer they knew and trusted and upgraded to the same brand as their previous vehicle.

The 3rd annual J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Automotive Brand Loyalty Study found brand loyalty improved across the board and grew stronger for the highest-ranked brands from 2020, said Tyson Jominy, J.D. Power’s vice president of data and analytics.

“Vehicle supply was tight as consumer demand was high, so for most consumers, they worked closely with the dealer they already knew when buying their new car,” Jominy said. “As consumers stayed home for so long, there was the wealth effect with consumers using their extra money to buy Apple laptops, handbags, watches, and cars, and in particular, luxury cars.”

Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics, J.D. Power/Image Credit: Tyson Jominy

The study pulled data from the 4 million new vehicle transactions listed by dealers in the Power Information Network from June 2020 to May 2021. Customer loyalty is based on the percentage of vehicle owners who chose the same brand when trading in or purchasing their next vehicle.

Mass Market Brand Loyalty

Subaru ranks the highest among mass-market brands for the third year in a row. With a loyalty rating of 61.8%, this means that percentage of consumers traded in their old Subaru for a new Subaru.

It’s not a great shock, though, since Subaru is a brand with a very loyal following, Jominy said.

“Subaru is a little quirky, off the mainstream, and has attracted a very rabid following,” he said. “They do things differently at Subaru. For example, they’ll make donations in consumer names to various causes. Their tagline is Subaru for Life, and they continue to expand their portfolio to meet consumers’ needs.”

For example, the larger Subaru Ascent with three rows of seats accommodates a growing family. The Subaru SUVs receive high marks, along with their entire portfolio, Jominy said.

2021 Subaru Ascent/Image Credit: Subaru

Also in the mass market brand category, Toyota ranks second (61.1%), followed by Honda (59.3%), RAM (56.8%), and Ford (53.9%).

Premium Brand Loyalty

Lexus ranks highest among the premium vehicle brands for a third consecutive year. With a 51.6% loyalty rate, Lexus is another brand known for quality and reliability, Jominy said.

“Its owners appreciate the experience of owning a Lexus,” he said. “Lexus is a very approachable luxury brand, and consumers find they don’t run into any economic or reliability surprises.”

2021 Lexus IS 300/Image Credit: Lexus

Porsche jumped two spots this year to rank second with a 50.2% loyalty rating, which is a 5-point increase. This is a more surprising jump since the Porsche lineup is smaller with only a handful of sports cars, sedans, and SUVs, Jominy said.

“Porsche doesn’t have a full lineup of SUVs and sedans and has a high price point, but Porsche owners continue to come back year after year,” he said. “Porsche has its new 911 version and the new Cayenne midsize SUV, which is their No. 2 selling vehicle.”

To round out the premium brand category, Mercedes-Benz ranked third (47%), followed by BMW (45.6%) and Audi (45.5%).

Subaru and Lexus also ranked highest in the 2021 Residual Value Awards for the new vehicles that hold the best value.

Overall Industry Loyalty

The overall industry loyalty is 49.5%, almost to that 50% threshold, and up 1 point in the industry this year. Premium is up 2 points this year, Jominy said.

Other vehicle brands that saw jumps this year include Acura and Volvo, each seeing a 7-point jump, Mazda with a 6-point gain, and Volkswagen with a 4-point rise.

2021 Mazda CX-5/Image Credit: Mazda

“Acura has a new MDX, Mazda has a new CX-5, and VW added a new three-row crossover,” he said. “It’s mostly a product strategy for these brands. Consumers are very pleased to find new products at their existing dealerships.”

Hayley Ringle

Hayley Ringle

Hayley Ringle has been an automobile enthusiast since her first motorcar love, a no-frills, air-cooled, orange 1976 VW Super Beetle. Hayley now enjoys driving her limited-edition Release Series 9 ride, an orange 2012 Scion XB, with vanity license plate HOTLAVA. Hayley’s fondness for cars stems from her dad’s love of British sports cars and her years working at an auto parts store while in college. She has written professionally for Phoenix-area newspapers for over 20 years, covering every subject imaginable, including Scottsdale’s car auctions and the Valley’s vehicle proving grounds. Her dream car is a Jaguar E-type roadster featured in the 1971 cult classic film “Harold and Maude.”