They say that it's a lot cheaper to keep the customers you have than it is to grab someone else's. No wonder, then, that Toyota, which makes more profit than any other automaker, tops J.D. Power's Customer Retention Study.

The Japanese automaker's flagship Toyota brand topped its Lexus luxury brand in the annual survey, which measures the percentage of new vehicle buyers and lessees who replace a vehicle with another from the same brand.

Power said overall industry customer retention fell slightly to 47.9 percent, from 49.6 percent in 2005. Among the reasons cited were aggressive incentive marketing by automakers and more brand changing based on price.

"Declining customer loyalty results from considerable improvements in quality, combined with a plethora of choices for consumers," said Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis at J.D. Power.

Toyota scored an impressive 63.9 percent retention rate. Honda retained third place with 60.3 percent retention. GM's Cadillac ranks highest among American brands and sixth overall, with a 55.5 percent retention rate. The automaker's Chevrolet brand ranked seventh, with a 55.3 percent rate. A lot of that is due to high loyalty among Chevy pickup truck buyers.

In yet another bell-toll for the U.S. auto industry, of the 12 brands that ranked above the industry average of 47.9 percent, only three were American, including Ford.

The biggest one-year gain among brands goes to Suzuki, which achieved a 23-percent gain in customer retention. The Japanese automaker has upped its advertising spending and especially its direct marketing to its own customers, as well as expanded its product line.

The survey is based on responses from more than 138,000 new vehicle buyers and lessees, of which 82,274 replaced a vehicle that was previously acquired new.

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