Detroit's carmakers may be able to justly point to product improvements in recent years, but changing customer perceptions in the marketplace about product and quality will take time.

In two consecutive Morpace Omnibus studies, only 8% of car owners report having returned to a domestic nameplate after owning an import.

Bill Pendry, manager of Morpace's complexity management service, added that between 25% and 30% of those returning to a domestic vehicle say they did so to get a lower price, while a majority cited reasons including styling preference, improved domestic quality and reliability, along with vehicle size and riding comfort.

"This really puts scale on the challenge that domestic producers face," Pendry said.

"Employing a competitive pricing strategy would leave any of the Detroit manufacturers competing for only a small percentage of car owners who will switch from an import to a domestic based on price."

The Morpace studies were fielded in November, 2008, and January, 2009. Each study had more than 1,000 interviews with consumers selected from an Internet panel of adults aged 18 and older. The sample reflects the demographic profile of the US population, it says.