Irvine, Calif. - A new brand loyalty report from shows that below-prime car buyers are less loyal than the average car buyer, are making practical choices as they re-enter the market and are trading in slightly younger vehicles this year than last. The report lists the top five brands for loyalty and purchase, as well as the most traded-in model years for below-prime car buyers. Based on an analysis of trade-in data from January 2013 to September 2013, the report offers a unique snapshot of the large population of car-buyers who are below prime.

"This report offers one of the industry's only views of below-prime car-buyer behavior," said CEO Jim Landy. "Given that over half of all used, and over one in four new, car loans today go to below-prime consumer, this is data that both automakers and consumers might want to take note of. These buyers, who are getting back on their feet, are contributing to the auto industry recovery, and this report provides a view of the brands these consumers are relying on – and trust - the most."

Below-prime car buyers, according to the report, are most loyal to Kia overall, although Nissan came in a strong second. When looking at the brands consumers are buying most when trading in, Chevrolet came in at number one, followed by Ford. So, while import brands score highest for loyalty, it is the domestics that these buyers are opting for more than any other brand.

And, given that brand loyalty for this buyer is almost half that (24%) of the average buyer (44%), Chevrolet's strong showing is significant. Their recent introduction of competitively priced, feature-rich sedans with good fuel economy, such as the Cruze and Malibu, as well as their traditional strength with trucks, is resonating with below-prime consumers.

In addition, the data offers an interesting picture of the age of the vehicles being traded in by these buyers. While the average age of a vehicle on the road today is 11.4 years, the average age of a vehicle traded in by these below-prime car buyers is 8.8 years, a 6% decrease from the previous year's 9.4. The most traded-in model year is 2006 and the top five years traded-in all pre-date the recession.

"The data continues to demonstrate that these buyers are making practical choices which not only benefit traditional economy brands, but also brands - such as Nissan and Ford - that are offering consumers good value in their entry level vehicles," said Landy. "While these buyers are not particularly brand loyal, they favor brands that offer competitively priced vehicles with the must-have features that today's consumers demand. They are also showing more confidence about re-entering the market, as evidenced by the fact that the age of their trade-ins is decreasing."

Mirroring's most purchased models by below-prime car buyers, the loyalty story here is that three Kia models are in the top ten most purchased vehicle list. Kia's options for this car buyer make it no surprise that their loyalty is strong. Meanwhile, an almost equally solid showing by Nissan, a brand that is well beyond consideration as an economy brand, is of note. Longtime Nissan owners have excellent options with Nissan's entry vehicles, Versa and Sentra, both of which have made major strides since many of these owners were last in the market.

Below-Prime Car Buyer Loyalty: Top Five Brands Overall

  1. Kia
  2. Nissan
  3. Dodge
  4. Chevrolet
  5. Ford

The inroads made by domestic brands in recent years, with their small and mid-sized sedans, are also resonating with this segment. Together with their continued strong truck offerings, Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford are continuing to command loyalty with the below-prime car buyer.

The average age overall of cars traded in by these buyers is 8.8 years, and it is worth noting that the top five model years are all pre-recession models. While it is possible that some of the buyers did not own the vehicles for the full life span, they are trading in well under the average age of vehicles in the general population, i.e. these consumers are not holding on until their vehicles die. This indicates increased confidence among these buyers about entering the market - and when their vehicles are still viable trade-ins.

Top Trade-in Model Years

  1. 2006
  2. 2007
  3. 2008
  4. 2005
  5. 2004

The Below-Prime Brand Loyalty Report is based on an analysis of funded loans used to purchase a new or used vehicle and where a trade-in was part of the transaction. The data analyzed covered the first three quarters of 2013.