The battle to win--and keep--hearts and minds is fiercer than ever in the current low-volume U.S. luxury market. Audi made major strides this year, gaining market share and losing the least of the major luxury carmakers. And on top of that, it earned R.L. Polk's award for the "most improved brand loyalty" in the industry.

Audi saw its brand loyalty, measured as the amount of repeat customers, grow by 4.9 percent in 2009. That's enough to beat the improvement of not just every luxury brand, but every carmaker in the U.S. The overall brand loyalty title went to Toyota, topping GM for the first time in nine years.

Some of the credit for Audi's improvement may be due to its online presence as well. A study released today by Luxury Lab found Audi's consistent brand messaging across every channel so good that it earned a rating of "Genius". See John Voelcker's article at TheCarConnection for the full details.

There were bright spots for other German luxury carmakers, too, with BMW's 3-Series winning the luxury car segment's brand loyalty rating, the MINI Cooper taking the compact segment, and the Porsche 911 winning the luxury sports car award.

“Maintaining a solid loyal customer base is not easy, but it is essential to survive in today’s competitive environment,” said Stephen Polk, chairman, president and CEO of  R. L. Polk & Co. The truth of that statement is borne out in Audi's year-end sales totals, down just 5.7 percent against 2008. You can read more about the luxury car sales winners and losers here.

[R.L. Polk]