So what do these kinds of people drive? The quick answer is a Chevy Camaro, Kia Soul or Ford Flex, according to Strategic Vision, a San Diego-based market research firm. We asked San Francisco-based honk.com, a car shopping website, to help us figure out which cars were most popular with techies, and it worked with Strategic Vision to come up with our list. Its findings are based on a survey of 140,000 consumers over the last two years. Six other vehicles on the list are certainly no surprise: They are the Acura TL, Infiniti G, Lexus IS, the Hyundai Genesis sedan, and the Porsche Cayenne.
Innovators and early adopters "are more likely to choose a luxury brand," said Matt Cragin, honk.com's product information manager. "Even though technology is democratizing, you can still get some pretty cool stuff in a luxury car."
At a base price of $35,105, the 2010 Acura TL, for example, offers Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, a USB port and an iPod interface as standard features. Options like a 10-speaker audio system that plays audiophile DVD-Audio discs, a navigation system with voice recognition, and a rear-view camera take it to the next level.
The top rankings for the Kia Soul and Chevy Camaro may be a sign that pure, unadulterated "cool" appeals to innovators as well. Neither is considered a vehicle with groundbreaking on-board technology, Cragin said. But the Soul makes its own quirky styling statement with flashing lights blinking in time with the music on its stereo speakers. Muscle is the Camaro's chief innovation, serving up 300 hp from its direct injection V6 or 426 hp from its V8.
The Ford Flex in part made the list thanks to its edgy exterior styling. "Innovators are people who are more likely to take risks and they will definitely gravitate to vehicles with bolder and more polarizing styling," Cragin said.
But the more staid F-150 pickup was also a top choice among innovators. Ford Sync, an optional on-board communications and entertainment system, helped propel both the Flex and the F-150 into the forefront, he said.
Ford launched Sync on a dozen vehicles in 2008 and eventually extended it throughout nearly its entire vehicle lineup. "The 'take rate' for that system is far better than Ford had expected. The company boosted the rate at which it rolled it out to other models. It helped move people up to higher trim levels, and it raised the consideration for Ford products."
Not every buyer of these models is an innovator or early adopter, of course. But at least some of their customers share an adventurous mindset -- and little more than that, according to Cragin. They may be male or female, young or old, rich or poor, he said. "What these folks have in common is a desire to try out new things and share their experiences with their peers."
As a group, they regularly boost the sale of a new technology with their own purchases and then advise their less adventurous friends, relatives and neighbors on the products.
So what do more conservative consumers, the technology laggards prefer? As you might expect, they tended to choose vehicles with less dramatic body styles, older technology or long-established nameplates, like the Chevy Impala, Ford Ranger, or Dodge Grand Caravan.
One surprise was that late adopters had the Toyota Prius ranked fairly high on their list. Cragin takes this as a sign that the hybrid has won over mainstream America.
Top Cars for Technology Innovators:
1. Chevrolet Camaro
2. Kia Soul
3. Ford Flex
4. Hyundai Genesis sedan
5. Porsche Cayenne
6. Ford F-Series pickup
7. Acura TL
8. Infiniti G sedan
9. Volkswagen CC
10. Nissan Maxima
Top Cars for Mainstream Adopters:
1. Chevrolet Impala
2. Ford Ranger
3. Honda Fit
4. Dodge Grand Caravan
5. Buick Lucerne
6. Toyota Prius
7. GMC Sierra
8. Kia Spectra
9. Subaru Forester
10. Chevrolet Colorado