Luxury Cars and Trucks – Is it all about Customer Loyalty and Leasing?

Luxury Cars and Trucks – Is it all about Customer Loyalty and Leasing?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

There’s been a lot of talk and media attention to the weak state of the auto industry, so I decided to take a look at a segment of the market that doesn’t get covered quite as much: luxury vehicles. Surprisingly, we’re still not seeing the drop in luxury vehicle sales this year that might have been expected considering the current economic and automotive industry challenges.

Sales Trends

Industry trends are showing that luxury vehicle sales have declined 34% year-to-date compared to 2008, less of a decline than the 35.1% drop experienced by the overall category of cars and light trucks. Looking strictly at cars (not trucks), we see a drop of 35.8% from last year…still lower than the year-over-year 38.6% drop for non-luxury cars. We have noticed a slight shift to lower-priced luxury cars, with greater sales declines seen in the higher-end flagship cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the BMW 7 Series, and the Lexus LS.

The sales trend is better for trucks, although the segment still experienced a decline. Sales of luxury trucks are down 30.4% year-over-year compared to a 31.9% drop for non-luxury trucks. And some brands are increasing market share and sales. The Lexus RX is the luxury truck leader, and has increased its share of the luxury truck market by four percentage points over last year. The new Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class have added almost 12,000 units this year through May.

Customer Loyalty

Tracking customer loyalty and competitive financing programs will help identify keys ways to increase share as the industry struggles to recover.

The luxury auto makers still have to contend with declining loyalty. Polk’s most recent loyalty study shows serious declines for Lexus, Infiniti, and Volvo. BMW, Porsche, and Jaguar have all improved their loyalty for Q1 2009, but loyalty in the luxury segment overall is down 1.5 points from the prior quarter.

Leasing

While leasing for luxury cars and trucks has declined from last year, it’s probably not the great leasing deals that are causing defections. Luxury truck leasing is down 47.8% from last year and leasing of luxury cars has dropped 44% since 2008. Leasing penetration is off for most makes, but as credit conditions ease, manufacturers with the best financing programs will increase both loyalty and conquest.

Careful management of customer retention to increase loyalty and implementation of competitive financing programs will be the key to increasing market share until the segment rebounds.

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