Anyone who reads or listens to anything beyond package labels and Kmart shopper alerts knows that the United States is an oxymoron (are an oxymoron?). People in Seattle are different from people in Savannah, and the citizens of Boston are unlike the citizens of Bakersfield. Recent data from our partners at car-shopping website Honk has confirmed this.
Using a sales database of 85,000 vehicles, the analysts at Honk compiled lists of the best-selling cars in four geographic areas of the U.S. These were the Northeast Region, Western Region, Midwest/Central Region, and Southern Region.
Some readers may recall that journalist and think-tanker Joel Garreau divided our continent into nine parts in his 1981 work, The Nine Nations of North America. Right there, you have evidence that Honk may have oversimplified a bit, but there are some nuggets to be mined from its data anyway.
Let’s start with what cliche mongers call the low-hanging fruit. Where, asked the professor, does the Toyota Prius sell well? If you answered California, you’d be given an Honor Student bumper sticker and a big helping of self-esteem. The Prius, in fact, occupies the number one slot in the Western Region’s top 25 vehicles.
Why am I not surprised? For one thing, my sources tell me that Leonardo Di Caprio and Rob Reiner each drive a Prius, and if enviro-liberal opinion leaders are going to influence a car purchase in any market, it will be in California. But the Prius phenomenon is not limited to the red-carpet crowd. A sensible Santa Barbara couple I have known for years traded in their Lexus and Jaguar sedans and bought a brace of Priuses. They did it, they said, simply because it lowered their consumption of fossil fuels, a sound enough reason.
Three other hybrids (Ford Fusion, Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape) made the Western Region list. As long as we’re doing social profiling in California, consider that a Scarborough Research survey tells us that hybrid owners consume more organic food, yogurt, and decaffeinated coffee than the general population and are twice as likely to practice yoga and go skiing. The gang at any Fort Worth Starbucks could have told you that, but their research credentials are shaky.
You hardly need a certified researcher to guess the politics of hybrid owners. According to Scarborough, 14 percent are evil Republicans intent on destroying the planet, 38 percent are Democrats determined to spend us into abject poverty in order to save it, and 36 percent call themselves Independent, probably because the other two groups scare them witless. Some 78 percent of hybrid owners regularly used e-mail, however, so there’s a faint hope for a meeting of minds.
Contrast the California Prius success story to the Southern Region, where full-size pickup trucks occupy three of the first five positions and the Chevrolet Camaro is number one. I live in this region and am heartily puzzled at the Camaro’s showing but not at all surprised by the pickups. I say that because I don’t seem to see a great many Camaros, old or new, but pickups are ubiquitous. Maybe all the Camaros are in Atlanta and Nashville, which brings up another point: Any automotive research organization that puts Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the same region apparently hasn’t been watching enough Southeastern Conference football.
The Camaro actually makes both the Southern and Midwest Region top 25, but not the Northeast, which includes New Jersey. Hybrids, incidentally, scored in only the Western Region, and Cadillac, despite a commendable product renaissance, appears only in the Midwest. Nineteen of the top 25 vehicles in the Midwest Region are domestic (if we include the no-longer-GM-owned Saab 9-3), probably because the three domestic automakers are headquartered there. In the Southern, Western, and Northeast Region, domestics placed nine, five, and six vehicles.
The Northeast Region, home to such diverse American oddities as Don Imus and Howard Dean, as well as a disproportionate amount of the country’s wealth, numbered only two luxury sedans among its top 25. These were the E-Class Mercedes and the BMW 5-Series. The rest of the list was dominated by what we might call Bean-Bauer vehicles, as in L.L and Eddie. Two Jeeps, which made no other regional lists, appeared, as well as two Subarus, and a handful of other SUVs and crossovers.
How do the regional lists stack up against regional stereotyping and national best-sellers? We’ve already examined a couple of common perceptions, the Californians as eco-crazed and the Northeasterners as rugged mountain folk (except for the millions who live in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia). And we have seen that the Midwest harbors an affection for domestic nameplates.
What about Gritworld, where I live? There are some expected developments and some surprises. Four of the five full-size pickups made the list (I’m counting GMC and Chevrolet as one), but the missing pickup was the Chevrolet Silverado, which, as far as I’m concerned, calls the whole of Honk’s research into question. The Southern Region claimed the only two convertibles (the BMW 3-Series and the Infiniti G37) to appear on any regional list. The absence of convertibles in California may be explained by the overall warmer climate in the southern states or by celebrities thinking that the canvasback duck is slaughtered in wholesale quantities to provide convertible tops for the rich.
A double handful of full-size SUVs made the Southern Region list. This prevalence of big vehicles probably won’t change much until our regional thought leaders (think Brett Favre and the offensive line of the Saints) join Tom Hanks and Ed Begley at a Hollywood fundraiser for Jay Rockefeller. The surprise to me was the number of upscale sedans, four, that appeared.So what can we conclude about all this? That it’s hard as all hell to pigeonhole car buyers, despite what so many eager know-it-alls over in the Marketing Department would have you believe.