Brand loyalty is increasing, according to Kelley Blue Book data, but it’s not an across the board as buyers of more affordable cars are more so, those who opt for luxury models, less so. More than 44 percent of non-luxury owners want to buy the same make next time around, compared to just over 40 percent of luxury buyers. More telling however is that only 13 percent of non-luxury buyers give the reason that they like to drive a different vehicle every few years as a reason to buy, while nearly 30 percent say they are looking for a new car because their current vehicle is old or has high mileage.

On the other side of the coin, 21 percent of luxury owners say they want to drive something different as a reason for being in the market and only 13 percent are looking for a vehicle with better fuel economy.

“Overall brand loyalty is at its highest level of the past two years,” the study reported, attributing the increase to rising consumer confidence.

A surprising finding is that Toyota, which has long been a top make for loyalty among non-luxury buyers has been displaced by Subaru and Ford with respective rates of 56.3 and 55.8 percent compared to Toyota’s 55.5 percent. The top three are followed by Honda (53.8 percent) and Chevrolet (52.0 percent). Least loyal among this set are Mitsubishi owners at 27.0 percent.

Among luxury owners, Lexus has the highest rate at 51.3 percent, followed by Mercedes at 47.9, Audi a point back and Porsche at 46.7 percent. BMW is 44.3 percent, while Cadillac comes in right on top of the median loyalty rate of 41.5 percent.

An interesting finding is that the longer buyers keep their cars, the less loyal they are to the brand. Shopper loyalty rates drop from 34.7 percent among those with year-old vehicles to just 29.3 percent with an 8-year-old car.

According to the study, “While most brands show overall loyalty rates of a third to half of consumers, the shopping behavior of these owners indicates a proclivity toward brand loyalty but not exclusivity, as they may be pricing a new vehicle of the brand they own in addition to pricing vehicles of alternative brands. Shifts in loyalty over time…serve as a reminder that brand loyalty is fluid even among OEMs that tend to demonstrate stronger rates than others.”

Also: See the New and Redesigned Cars of 2016

Ford embraces 84-month loans

Ford Motor Credit becomes the latest automaker captive finance arm to offer 84-month financing following a successful test of the program in the Western U.S. The 7-year loans will now be offered at all Ford dealerships nationally.

Ford spokesperson Margaret Mellott told Automotive News that “We’re already seeing customers in the industry financing for 84 months” and she explained that the new program is an “opportunity for Ford Credit to work with them.”

Experian Automotive, which tracks loans, reports that 29 percent of all loans being written range from 73 to 84 months in duration, up 12 percent in the last quarter of 2015 alone. During that period, the average vehicle loan was 67 months, while used vehicles were financed for an average of 63 months.

Rising transaction prices are contributing to the acceptance of longer loans which will lower the monthly payment. As the market reaches record levels, Ford, like other makers, will be under intense pressure to maintain momentum and as a result, we will likely see more long term loans and lease contracts as a way to keep monthly payments in check in order to close deals.

Ford recently topped GM in monthly sales, but industry analysts attributed that feat to a greater reliance on lower-margin fleet sales, more leasing and higher incentives. Longer term loans also fit into a strategy focused on volume over sales margin.

Toyota, GM halt some production

Recent earthquakes in Japan that disrupted operations at a key automotive supplier forced both Toyota and GM to shut down production. Toyota had to close almost all of its production there, a move that may affect supplies of popular Lexus and Toyota models. The automaker said it hoped to have some of the factories back online this week and is looking to resume full production by late next week.

Among the vehicles affected by the shutdowns were the Lexus RX and NX crossover SUVs, GS and ES sedans and CT hatchback. Also affected were production of the GX sport-utility vehicle, IS and LS sedans, RC coupe and the Toyota 4Runner. The temporary halt in production may affect inventories, especially of high-volume and recently designed models like the RX and NX. Some estimates of the loss in production put it as high as 90,000 vehicles; however, much of that may be made up with the addition of Saturday work days and reduced vacation time.

Meanwhile, GM also felt the effects of the quake in its supply chain and announced that it would be closing assembly plants in Spring Hill, Tenn.; Lordstown, Ohio; Fairfax, Kan.; and Oshawa, Ontario, for the next two weeks. These plants build the Buick LaCrosse and Regal; Cadillac XTS and XT5; Chevrolet Cruze, Equinox, Impala and Malibu; and GMC Acadia.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

2017 Subaru WRX priced

Prices for the 2017 Subaru WRX and WRX STI have been announced with the standard model starting at $26,695 and the high performance STI model at $35,195, plus $820 delivery. The WRX comes in standard, Premium and Limited trims and the new base price reflects just a $100 increase over 2016. The WRX Premium begins at $28,995 plus delivery while the Limited is $30,995. Models equipped with the CVT automatic transmission are $1,200 higher on both trims.

The STI is offered in standard and Limited trim, with the latter starting at $39,995, the same price as the previous model.

The 2017 WRX will offer Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology for the first time, a system that is integrated with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning. For $2,600, it’s packaged with navigation, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert along with an upgrade to the Harmon Kardon 9-speaker sound system, keyless entry and push-button start.

The rundown

Just before it announced pricing on the 2017 WRX and WRX STI, Subaru also announced a facelift, new features and pricing for the 2017 Forester. Check out the details here.

Minivans don’t have to be penalty boxes as the redesigned 2017 Chrysler Pacifica shows.  See our First Review to get the inside story on the latest family hauler.

Taking a unique approach in its launch, the 2016/2017 Buick Envision will see the first of the China-built compact crossovers come over as high line models as ‘16s, with 2017 featuring the full lineup. 


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