When it comes to automotive brand loyalty, American consumers are beginning to place a heavier emphasis on how much fun a vehicle is to drive, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey released earlier this month.
By contrast, the study found resale value fell in importance as a measure of customer loyalty 10 percentage points from 2009. The importance of driveability rose 8 points, J.D. Power said.
The top two automakers in the study's rankings of consumer loyalty were Ford and Honda, with each retaining 62 percent of current owners. J.D. Power says Honda's most popular models were the Pilot, CR-V and Accord; while Ford's were the Edge, F-Series pickup trucks and Fusion.
The big up-and-comer in J.D. Power's study, however, was Kia, which saw its consumer retention rate shoot up 21 points to 58 percent in 2010.
J.D. Power's director of automotive product research said the stabilizing global economy was a big reason for the uptick in importance for non-financial measures of customer satisfaction.
"In light of this, developing new models with attractive styling and that are perceived as fun to drive is increasingly critical for automakers in order to retain and conquest customers as the market continues to recover," said Raffi Festekjian.
Experts say it's still important for consumers to pay attention to financial aspects of car ownership, however. A sporty, fun-to-drive vehicle might have a higher crash rate and, consequently, higher car insurance costs than a more economic model. Additionally, many vehicles with a high "wow" factor, including most upper-end SUVs, have very poor gas mileage compared to smaller, less flashy cars.