Discontinuance of compact cars challenges brand loyalty, Edmunds says

Marketing

After Ford Motor Co. and General Motors ended production of compact cars, many former car owners continued to purchase sedans instead of switching to crossovers and SUVs, according to an Edmunds analysis.

So far in 2019, 23 percent of former Chevy Cruze owners and 31 percent of former Ford Focus owners bought a car from a competitor, the online car sales website said in a report Wednesday.

“Ford and GM made a strategic decision to prioritize profit at the expense of market share,” Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights, said in a statement. “While this may set them up better in the long run so they have the cash they need to fund electrification and autonomy, there’s no question that decision is giving their competitors an edge now.”

Former Focus owners’ brand loyalty declined over the last three years from 40 percent in 2016 to 33 percent through September 2019, the report said. Former Cruze owners’ loyalty declined from 57 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2019.

The study showed 21 percent of Focus and 22 percent of Cruze trade-ins go toward the purchase of a compact car, many of those cars being Honda Civics or Toyota Corollas.

“The number of Focus and Cruze owners trading their vehicles in and buying a small Jeep [Compass or Renegade], Hyundai Kona or Elantra, Kia Forte or Subaru Crosstrek have all risen in the last three years,” the study said.

Still, 21 percent of Cruze owners and 18 percent of Focus owners traded in their cars for the corresponding brand’s crossovers or SUVs in 2019. Edmunds analysts said the cost increase of a small crossover or SUV — between $4,000 and $8,000 more than a small car — puts pressure on younger and “price-sensitive” buyers.

“The catch is, if Ford and GM don’t have affordable options for shoppers who are buying their first or second new car, it could be much harder to win them over later,” Caldwell said in the statement. “Catching consumers early and keeping them in the family has been a basic tenet of automotive brand strategy for decades.

“It feels like we’re in the midst of a transformative time for the industry where automakers are being forced to rethink everything,” she said.

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