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updated 10/14/2011 8:06:26 AM ET 2011-10-14T12:06:26

Long ignored by most American auto buyers, and slighted by others due to quality problems, Hyundai is now tops when it comes to corporate loyalty, according to a new study.

But Ford Motor Co. is also making gains in the marketplace, according to the report by Experian Automotive, a data service that tracks vehicle registration data as well as consumer attitudes. The Detroit maker captured the lead in six of the spots in the top 10 product segments.

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Hyundai had a loyalty rate of 49.6 percent, according to the Experian study, edging out General Motors and Ford – as well as major Japanese makers like Toyota. It was the first time the Korean carmaker led the list, marking a significant turnaround for a brand that was once the butt of jokes, not a marque that won repeat business.

Hyundai’s loyalty – translated as the repurchase rate of its owners – has also helped drive the brand’s market share to record levels, 9.2 percent during the second quarter of this year, up from 7.9 percent a year earlier. The maker’s performance in the study also reflected well on its sibling brand, Kia actually outscoring the Hyundai brand with a 47.9 percent loyalty rate.

General Motors, which came in second in the Experian study, had the second-highest loyalty rate, at 48.1 percent, and also saw its market share grow by 0.5 points – to 19.6 percent during the second quarter of this year.

Ford was third in the latest Experian loyalty study, at 47.6 percent. But it also took six of the Top 10 sports in terms of loyalty to specific products. That included the Ford Fiesta, third at 63 percent, and the Fusion, fourth at 61 percent.

The product with the highest individual loyalty was the Kia Forte, according to Experian, at 68 percent. The maker’s quirky crossover, the Soul, was fifth at 59 percent, with its Forte Koup ranking eighth at 57 percent.

Makers have become increasingly focused on brand loyalty in recent years. Repeat business not only helps prop up sales and market share but also helps hold down marketing costs. Experts say it can cost as much as 11 times more to “conquest” a buyer from a competing brand as opposed to winning back one of your loyal owners.

More from The Detroit Bureau:

State recognizes GM plants for environmental stewardship
GM developing new EN-V
Major automakers agree on new quick-charge EV standard

Copyright 2012 The Detroit Bureau. All rights reserved.

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