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 |  Dec 16 2010, 3:05 PM

Automakers know how important customer loyalty is to the success of their companies. That’s why the good ones concentrate not only on making a safe and reliable vehicle, but one that’s fun to drive as well, and then back it up with great service. And J.D. Power is on top of which automakers are doing just that with their 2010 Customer Retention Study that shows which car buyers coming back for more.

New-vehicle owners are increasingly citing fun-to-drive vehicles as a top reason to remain loyal to their brand, while shifting away from expected resale value. Topping the list are Ford and Honda in a tie with a 62 percent rate of customer retention. Following close behind are Hyundai, Lexus and Toyota with a rate of 60 percent each.

The study shows that import manufacturers have the edge on the domestics but that gap is closing, thanks in part to customers realizing that American automakers are producing a greater number of good products. In the study, nine of the top 10 automakers are imports.

The automaker with the biggest jump is Kia, which has climbed the most compared to the 2009 study. They have jumped 21 percentage points, and is now seeing a retention of 58 percent (that’s 10 points above the industry average).

In addition to customer retention, the study also looks at the rates at which automotive brands capture customers from their competitors (this is known as conquesting). The importance of a fun-to-drive vehicle has also risen as a reason why brands conquest new customers from their competitors, as has vehicle styling.