Sales races in the auto industry tend not to matter much beyond the desks of those who might get a free golf vacation for winning one. With nearly 300 new models of cars and trucks on the market, there's always a close competition somewhere. But rarely, if ever, do we get some geographic insight into what people are buying state by state. Do Texans really differ in their preferences that much from Colorado, or New Yorkers from New Jersey? The answer turns out to be yes.
We asked IHS Automotive to share their count of the most popular vehicles of 2014 broken down by state. IHS Automotive's tracking differs from what automakers report in two important ways; it counts what new vehicles are registered in each state, rather than just national totals as sold by dealers, and it can separate vehicles registered by businesses from those registered to individuals. This list excludes those vehicles sold to large fleet buyers, like rental-car agencies and governments — leaving only those sold and used by individual retail customers.
As expected, the top five overall vehicles in sales — the Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado and Ram pickups, followed by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord — dominate the map. What's unexpected is some of the geographic outlines, many of which follow old college sports conference boundaries; in Big Ten land, Chevy rules, while Ford has the Big 12 to itself and Toyota dominates the old Southeastern Conference. It's no surprise that imports rule on the coasts, where Honda and Toyota have claimed a large chuck of the new-car market and fewer buyers opt for pickups. (All of California's top-five selling vehicles were either Honda or Toyota sedans.)
The biggest surprise? The Subaru Outback and Forester. Last year, Subaru sold 138,790 Outbacks — or about 1/3rd of what Honda moved in Accords — but that was enough to be the most popular new model among retail customers in Washington, Colorado and Maine, while the Forester conquered Connecticut. Unlike most automakers, Subaru sells virtually no vehicles to fleet or bulk buyers; years of conservative factory building have meant there's generally more demand for Subies than supply, especially in the most popular SUV/wagon models. In several other snowbelt states where a pickup topped this map, the Outback was the most popular car.
And a couple of states reflect the trend toward SUVs; as Tom Libby, manager of industry analysis for IHS Automotive notes, 2014 was the first year "crossover" SUVs like the Honda CR-V — New York's most favorite new vehicle — surpassed sedans in popularity. Among American vehicles, only models like the Chevy Equinox and Ford Escape made the top-five lists in any given state, while American-branded sedans were all but shut out. "I think the whole car/truck distinction is becoming obsolete," Libby said. "It's becoming a very fuzzy line."
As for the outliers; Floridians love the Toyota Corolla, God bless 'em, and Hawaii and Vermont have iconoclastic tastes for pickups (the Toyota Tacoma and GMC Sierra, respectively.) And while some states seem committed to their choices — like Texans and their love of Ford pickups — other states were much more divided in their preferences. We'll update this list next year to see who wins, and who suffers a state change.