By on July 15, 2020

Subaru Legacy 2018 Logo Emblem Grille

J.D. Power’s Automotive Brand Loyalty Study dropped this week, with Subaru and Lexus predictably topping the charts. Subaru actually edged out Toyota by a hair in the mainstream segment by retaining 60.5 percent of its owners, and is assumed to be aided by younger generations just getting into vehicle ownership. This is something we can back up anecdotally, as many drivers look back fondly at the nameplate and are eager for a second helping.

If your author had a nickel for every person that happily reminisced about the hand-me-down Subaru Legacy or Forester wagons they drove during their formative years, he would have a jar full of coins wasting space on a shelf somewhere because nickels aren’t particularly valuable. 

Speaking of not having enough money to buy things, Lexus trumped Mercedes-Benz in the premium/luxury segment with a loyalty percentage of 48. It was a close race, though. Mercedes retained 47.8 percent of its customers and was followed by BMW (45.1 percent), Porsche (44.9) Audi (43.4), Land Rover (39.6), Acura (38.3), Volvo (38.3), and Lincoln (37).

The bottom of the field included Cadillac, Maserati, Infiniti, and Jaguar — with only the British brand failing to achieve a retention rate above 21 percent.

Back in the mainstream, Toyota came in a very tight second with a customer loyalty settling in at 60.3 percent. Rounding out the top five (before the differences between brands really starts to become apparent) were Honda (58.7 percent), Ram (57.3) and Ford (54.3).

Mid-pack contenders averaged a retention rate between 51 and 39 percent, leaving a handful of brands looking like they must have done something terribly wrong to have lost so much repeat business. They included Buick with 27.4 percent, Mitsubishi (27.1), Mini (26.4), Dodge (17.8), Chrysler (14.1), and Fiat (10.4).

While most of the names are hardly surprising to see, Dodge has recently been praised for its improving quality. In fact, it tied with Kia for first place in J.D. Power’s most recent Initial Quality Study. Dodge also aced Consumer Reports’ reliability survey — making it the first domestic brand in the publication’s history to take top honors. At the same time, Subaru’s reliability seemed to slip immensely.

What gives?

We think this has everything to do with product lineup and the average consumer not being hip to the daily goings-on of the automotive industry. Dodge has some of the best marketing in the business and the kind of products Americans traditionally appreciate. But it’s becoming even more of a specialized performance brand, with the Journey and Grand Caravan being discontinued for 2021. Meanwhile, Chrysler has one luxury sedan and three(ish) versions of the same minivan on offer. They’re wonderful products, but there’s not a lot of variety, likely encouraging some shoppers to look elsewhere.

By contrast, Subaru has a more versatile lineup that caters to more mainstream tastes and boasts similarly good marketing. Framing itself as the pet-friendly automaker (as if animals cared one whit about what you’re driving) was a true stroke of brilliance. It understands it’s a brand that excels at making customers walk away with a good feeling and has leaned into that by focusing on its safety credentials and attaching itself to nature by way of (nearly) ubiquitous all-wheel drive.

“There are many factors that contribute to brand loyalty, ranging from the experience a customer has when purchasing the vehicle to how driving it makes them feel,” Tyson Jominy, vice president of data & analytics at J.D. Power, said in a statement.

“Automakers are really focused on customer retention, as evidenced by the payment plans and incentives they’ve offered since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Many have gone above and beyond to offer customers financial assistance during a period of economic uncertainty, which does a lot to bolster consumer confidence in their chosen brand and repurchase it in the future.”


[Image: Subaru]

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26 Comments on “J.D. Power Says Drivers Still Loyal to Subaru, Lexus...”

  • avatar

    Interesting about Dodge and Ram and the difference there. We have a Dodge (pre-Ram brand) pick up and until just recently actually had 2. When it’s time to replace my wife wouldn’t even let me look at other brands. It has been a great truck for us so no issues with that for me.

    Then I look at Dodge, and we have a Challenger that has also been basically trouble free and it’s a near daily driver. I know SO many Challenger owners that have replaced their Challengers with other Challengers because of refreshes or special editions or going from 5.7 to 392 to HCs or whatever. I have a feeling if they separated out Challenger and to a lesser extent Charger owners- they’d probably be up there with the Ram owners in loyalty and everything else in Dodge’s line up is just something you bought when you needed a car and they were on sale that month.

    • 0 avatar

      “When it’s time to replace my wife”

      Grammatically incorrect but dramatically hilarious.

      • 0 avatar

        Reminds me of one old fella who appeared on American Pickers. Mike and Frank were marveling at the amount of mechanical stuff he had and the old guy quipped: “Only thing I got that’s not modified is my wife.”

      • 0 avatar

        A case of “Let’s eat grandma” versus “Let’s eat, grandma”

        A simple comma can save a marriage….or grandma.

    • 0 avatar

      Whhle not quite every single Dodge is a Hellcat, the brand’s greater focus on emotional attractors than on pragmatic practicality, isn’t ideal from a repeat sales POV. A Hellcat is something most people buy at a certain point in life. Few people buy one after college, and keep rebuying new ones until death, the way Subaru and Toyota people often do with “their” respective brand.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would expect Tesla to rate very high, or were they excluded because they don’t have dealers or something? I recall some other survey that excluded them for some such reason.

    On the other hand, maybe some people bolt Tesla after dealing with rust, bumper separations, or bad displays.

  • avatar

    The people I know who drove Subarus when they were decent, i.e. prior to 2011, haven’t gone back. Including me. The service waiting room used to be a lively spot, but in latter years was filled with grey office drones. You road test the cars, hoping against hope that a spark of life might have returned, but wobbly Legacies/Outbacks and that CVT, ugh. Now they have customers who are happy driving nonentities, and like similar Toyota have loyal customers, those not in the slightest bit interested in cars other than as dull plodding transportation. That’s my view.

    • 0 avatar

      Rhe then girlfried8, now wife had a 2012 Forester when we met. Tinny, cheap transportation that grew into a nightmare with cracked windshields, oil consumption, tires on the wear bars at 20K miles, P300 misfire codes and coolant usage. We traded it on a GmC Terrain which went that went 45K onand never needed tires or extra oil. Then her sister in law thought she would trade in her 2003 Camry on a 2017 Forester. She said it had the worst seats and drove like an ox cart!

      Never again Subaru!

  • avatar

    Not surprised. I’ve done most of my driving in various old Toyotas and now a Subaru. I’m sticking with an 07 Forester as the second car because newer ones don’t have adequate power, dual range or manual options. 300k kms, most by me. Oily heads, about 10 things wrong at any one time, but solid and adequate. Plus an endless supply of cheap upgrades as parts fail. Including younger engines installed cheaply. Emotionally, I am now off the merry go round. Those cars are simply suitable and upgrading isn’t worth the improved NVH for the lost capabilities. The eyesight stuff is good but I’ll get that all on an EV at some point. And as with aircraft, I bet that for now we’ll find little improvement in crash stats as improved tech saves some people but kills others due to over-reliance on driver aids.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    You’re telling me that 40% of Land Rover owners go back for another one? That’s madness.

    In our fleet we have a 67 Chevy, 20065 Pontiac, 2006 BMW, 2007 Subaru, 2018 Subaru, and a 2019 Lexus.

    The only one I would consider buying another one of would be the Lexus. I have said it before, but I am done with Subaru. Not that my car is particularly unreliable or that they essentially stopped making the type of “adult-enthusiast” cars I would buy, but mostly because there’s nothing any Subaru does that is better than any other car. Couple that with me not being a crossover buyer and everything is either for 20 years olds or 90 year olds.

  • avatar

    Can confirm. Know personally people on their 5th Subaru, 4th Lexus.

    Its like they need a car and they just head to Subaru/Lexus and pick one up.

  • avatar

    Another factor of why people go back to the same brand, which isn’t talked about in this article is favorable lease terms for repeat customers. I have a strong feeling that’s valid for Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, etc. All wonderful vehicles if leased and kept for no more than their warranty. The bottom of the list generally makes sense although the Dodge and to some extent Chrysler baffle me. May be Chrysler was heavily influenced by the now defunct 200? I understand the difference between Dodge and Ram. Pick up trucks are like politics. People become entrenched in the brand and rarely change sides when it comes time to replace them. Subaru? That’s more like a cult. That’s the only explanation I have of why people keep buying them. I don’t think they’re bad cars but I certainly don’t think they particularly excel at anything. Their reliability is overblown, their symmetrical AWD is a lot of marketing and their looks aren’t that great.
    The rest make sense. Who wants to be a repeat buyer of Mitsubishi, Mini and Fiat?

    • 0 avatar

      I hope Mitsubishi survives. I like that cars like the Mirage are still being made. It’s awkward, not very good at anything other than being small, and isn’t a good value on purchase price or resale. But it exists somehow, with its tiny 3 pot engine and festive color options. It’s endearing to the irrational part of me that trolls car gurus looking at Chevy Sparks and lusting after LS trim models with roll up windows and five speed manual. God help me if I found one locally in that metallic orange.

  • avatar

    This headline really spoke to me.

    But I’m not loyal to Subaru because in the end, I didn’t think it was a great car dynamically.

    As we know, many people don’t give any hoots about dynamics, and only go after the reliability. And in that aspect it was fine. I received better service at both Subaru dealers I visited than the Infiniti one.

    I think Subaru has a good image as well. Dogs, safety, families. Most people enjoy those things. They return to a “nice” automaker. Nissan for example has no such image, other than “Rent Me Sometime.”

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. Subaru doesn’t make anything that interests me (even on the “performance” side the BRZ is a little too slow on the stopwatch and the STI has too many pedals), but they definitely how to play to their audience.

  • avatar

    These are brand loyalty figures, so the super-low numbers for some brands are partially driven by the fact that when Mr. Z returned to the dealer intending to buy another Nameplate Y, he found that Brand X had discontinued Nameplate Y. Result: Brand X “Loyalty” drops.

  • avatar

    Today on TTAC we interview Allison, a typical Subaru owner (Subaru brand loyalty 60.5%). Allison’s current Subaru is her third consecutive Subaru (.605^3=22.1% chance of finding a three-time consecutive owner in our database [at Mini the chances would be less than 2%]).

    Allison has not driven a vehicle besides her own in the past three years (except for the trip she took to the National Park at the other side of the country where she flew and then rented a Subaru [“because the chance of snow” she tells us]).

    Keep in mind that Allison does not post on automotive blogs, and she has not visited an automotive dealership other than a Subaru dealership in the past seven years. She drives her vehicle a great deal, takes her vehicle to places where most of her friends and peers do not ever go, and generally has a high ‘involvement level’ with her vehicle. Pictures taken of her vehicle today as she pulled into our facility indicate some backroad dust and several decals representing various causes and affiliation groups.

    Questions from the panel for Allison:
    • OEM Engineer Mr. X: “How do you feel about the quality, reliability and durability [QRD] of your current Subaru?”
    Allison: “They’ve all been about the same.”

    • TTAC poster XYZ: “Does the CVT bother you at all?”
    Allison: “What?”

    • Corey Lewis: “How about noise, vibration and harshness [NVH] – have you noticed a difference between your Subaru and class-leading vehicles from other OEM’s?”
    Allison: “My current Subaru drives and sounds a lot like my previous Subaru.”

    [High Loyalty generally indicates low familiarity with other makes. This carries through to *all* survey responses. Allison is not going to nail Subaru on an IQS survey for not having Lexus-level refinement, for example, because she has not even been in a Lexus *as a passenger* for at least ten years.]

  • avatar

    The main flaw I see in this survey is how they define “brands”. Some brands like Dodge are rarely stand alone dealerships. Typically they are included with other FCA (Stellantis?) brands like RAM and Jeep. When a Dodge owner goes to trade in their car and they are interested in a pick-up truck, the dealer has no problem showing them a RAM. They don’t care that they didn’t sell them another Dodge since they still kept them within the corporation and all of the company retention incentives apply. Compare this business model with Subaru and it’s a different story. The Subaru dealer has no answer for the returning Subaru owner besides staying within Subaru.

  • avatar

    Brand loyalty is a personal ship that takes years to turn around. I held on to my Civic for decades. It was an exceptional car when I bought it new, so it lasted. As the generations went by, all I could see was myself buying another Civic… the same, but better and a little bigger.

    But when it finally came time to actually buy a new car, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Honda corp wasn’t the same company that I fell in love with. So that’s how I ended up in a Subaru… the same virtues as the 90’s cars, simple clean ergonomics, good visibility, friendly crowd of owners. “You meet the nicest people in a Subaru” if I were to steal an advertising slogan.

    Based on personal experience, I think these brand loyalty surveys are a bit “sticky”… people tend to envision the future as being similar to the present. But once it comes down to spending real money, things can change.

  • avatar

    Hm… Let’s see what I owned so far since I know how to drive.
    1994 Isuzu Panther MPV. MT
    1993 Honda Accord Sedan MT
    1992 Honda Accord coupe AT
    1990 Honda Accord Sedan MT
    1991 Honda Accord Sedan AT
    1993 Honda Prelude MT
    1994 Acura Legend AT
    1997 Volvo 850 GLT Wagon AT
    1990 Toyota Previa AT
    2004 Honda Element AT
    2006 Scion xB AT
    2005 Prius AT
    1996 RAV4 MT
    2012 Honda CR-Z AT
    2010 Suzuki SX4 AT

    The worst car I owned was Volvo and that I still own SX4 was lemon. But as I noticed the list mostly I am happy with my old and new Honda and Toyota. I never bought them new and the lowest mileage that I own were 100k and the most were 380k. Yep bought and sold them amazing with all those miles I still can sell them after I used them several years.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Did you like the CR-Z? A friend has a manual and I feel like I am in a tiny minority that liked it, though I’m not sure I’d do a Honda Hybrid outside of a lease given their history.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t really like the mpg because it’s not as good as my Second gen Prius, but when you switch to sport mode it feels more exciting than Prius. But since it’s hybrid both cars still not gonna win any race. Lol. But I am love CRZ design it look fast even when it’s not moving.

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    If Chevy hadn’t screwed me, that’s what I would still be buying. I’ve had four Mazdas since, and I’m likely going to buy number five when my lease runs out, unless a small affordable pickup shows up before then.

    Treat me right and I’ll be loyal.

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