PORTLAND, Ore. — More consumers are purchasing cars out of necessity and have less brand and dealer loyalty, according to a recent survey by Chrome Systems Inc., a subsidiary of DealerTrack Holdings Inc.

The 2010 Chrome Consumer Survey highlights significant shifts in the way consumers are researching and purchasing vehicles this year compared to 2009. Among the survey’s key findings were:

Necessity has become the primary driver for vehicle purchases. In what may be a sign of the economy’s continued softness, fewer respondents said they purchased or leased a vehicle simply because they wanted something new (21 percent in 2010, down from 32 percent in 2009).

The number one reason cited for purchasing or leasing a new vehicle was the current vehicle being unreliable or broken down (26 percent, up from 19 percent in 2009).

Vehicle availability influences consumers’ choice of dealerships. Twenty percent of respondents chose a dealer based on specific online inventory listings, up from 15 percent last year. 

Dealer loyalty is eroding, as only 24 percent said they selected a dealer because they or someone they knew had previously purchased or leased from that dealer, down from 37 percent in 2009.

Brand loyalty is diminishing. Compared to 2009, consumers are less likely to want to purchase the same brand of car they previously owned (35 percent in 2010 versus 39 percent last year).

More than four out of five car-buyers shop online first. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they were likely to shop for a vehicle online before making a purchasing or leasing decision. Among those researching vehicles on OEM and dealer websites, price and preferred equipment selection was cited as the leading factor in purchase decisions.

Concerns about fuel economy have waned with the stabilization of gas prices. While fuel economy is critical to about half the consumers, (54 percent, down from 60 percent in 2009), vehicle price (74 percent), body style (68 percent) and overall appearance and styling (59 percent) rank higher as must-have features.

“It is no surprise that the sluggish economy has changed consumers’ vehicle purchasing habits, and this survey highlights some of the critical shifts in sentiment,” said Amit Maheshwari, general manager, DealerTrack Data Services. “The need for a strong online presence is greater than ever as price, availability and convenience can convert an online review of inventory into a relationship with a dealer.”

Maheshwari continued, “Building upon the results from last year’s survey, we are able to see marked shifts in consumer vehicle purchasing trends that will help trend-conscious auto retailers make decisions that drive traffic to their websites and stores. As consumers become more research-savvy, dealers should aggressively manage their inventory, stocking in-demand new and used vehicles and pricing them to sell quickly and profitably.”