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Chevy and Ford face shrinking number of buyers following end of compact cars

Although buyers sticking with the brands are hopping into more profitable SUVs, they're also defecting to rival automakers at a quickening rate.

Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze

Some are staying loyal, but lots are looking elsewhere for a new set of wheels.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Both Chevrolet and Ford are beginning to see a decline in brand loyalty among car buyers following the death of their compact car offerings. If you've been hiding out under a rock for the past couple of years, Ford canned all of its passenger cars (the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus) and GM has largely withdrawn from the segment save for a few models.

The information comes from an in-depth study the car-price site Edmunds published (PDF) on Thursday, after analyzing where Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus buyers are taking their business. With both cars out of production, buyers don't have direct replacements to slide into.

Here's the good news for both automakers. The buyers that are sticking with Ford and Chevy when they're ready to dump their Focus or Cruze are purchasing crossover SUVs. That plays right into both automakers' hands -- they've cited an overall shift in preference for utility vehicles as the reason for dropping passenger cars.

The most popular model Cruze buyers are going home with is a Chevy Equinox, followed closely by a Chevy Trax. At Ford, Focus owners are stepping into an Escape or an EcoSport at high rates.

Now, the bad news. Brand loyalty for both Chevy and Ford has plummeted in the past three years, expedited by the lack of compact cars, the Edmunds study shows in data. In 2016, 40% of Ford owners bought another vehicle from the brand. This year, that figure is down to 33%. At Chevy, 57% of owners bought another bowtie-badged vehicle three years ago, but this year, that's at 45%. It gets worse for Chevy, however; 9% of Cruze trade-ins just this year were for another Cruze. The next time those people go to buy a car, there won't be another Cruze to buy.

Digging into the numbers further, a lot of Focus and Cruze owners still want to purchase another compact car. Edmunds found 21% of Cruze owners end up buying another compact car and 22% of Focus owners do the same. The share of owners defecting to Honda and Toyota, in the process, is growing.

Ford and Chevy compact car owners who want another similar model are buying Civics and Corollas at higher rates this year than three years ago. Further, some of these buyers are finding a home with Kia and Hyundai and purchasing a rival crossover, rather than another Ford or Chevy vehicle.

"We're pretty satisfied with the quality of our market share," a Chevy representative said in a statement. "Sales of Chevrolet trucks and crossovers are offsetting lower car sales according to actual customer registrations, resulting in a retail market share that has held up year over year, while many of our key competitors are losing retail share."

Ford did not respond to our request for comment.

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Originally published Nov. 14, 10:11 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:34 p.m.: Adds comment from Chevy.