Car sales are always a good barometer of the economy, and if that’s true, the outlook or at least the anticipated outlook for 2013 is good. According to the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), new vehicle sales for 2012 were up 25.3% over 2011, exceeding a whopping 1.6 million units (including fleet sales). Compare that to a nationwide increase of 13.4%. Go California!
A couple weeks ago, headlines around the country trumpeted (or jeered, depending on your perspective), that the Toyota Prius was the number one selling vehicle in California in 2012. How many? An impressive 60,688 – more than the entire population of Cheyenne, Wyoming. You could practically feel the derision and scorn aimed at California from “real Americans” who only buy big pickup trucks and SUVs. Those damn socialist, communist, tree huggers, over-zealous environmentalists and car-haters in California. How dare you choose a Japanese-made hybrid over an American pickup truck!
I think the Prius’ crown makes sense and here’s why: Gas is expensive in California – more than most of the rest of the country – and the Prius delivers the best fuel economy for the dollar. For the vast majority of buyers, whether they admit it or not, it’s a pocketbook issue. Aside from economics, you can pretend to (or actually) care about the environment and brag about how little you spend on gas. It’s also a class-less car. You will see people of all socioeconomic levels driving a Prius — from a wealthy Hollywood star to one of the below-the-line staffers on a television show.
The whole Prius ethos is wrapped up into a simple, right-sized, easy to drive transportation appliance that people love. We have one in our family and it functions exactly as advertised. It is very reliable and requires almost no driving skill to glide through daily activities and gets a relatively consistent 40 mpg (never the 50 mpg claimed).
However, for us in Los Angeles and the other large metropolitan areas that dot the beautiful coast of California, this isn’t surprising. You can’t throw a stone in any direction without hitting one. And in 2012, the Prius family grew to three models: The standard Prius hatchback, the compact, Yaris-based Prius-C and the larger Prius-V wagon. We are used to the creepy “silence” a Prius makes as it rolls along before the gas engine kicks: There is that vague electric hum (like you hear from a transformer) and the subdued road noise from the low-rolling resistance tires as if someone was pushing a stalled car.
This isn’t to say that our former favorite car, the Honda Civic, didn’t do very well, despite being dropped from Consumer Report’s “Recommend List” for the first time in memory and receiving near-universal scorn from the automotive press. When I drove the 2012 Honda Civic in 2011, I piled on the poor Civic calling it a second-rate, noisy econobox. But as you can see by the graphic above, Honda Loyalists didn’t abandon their favorite car and still bought 57,124 units.
Honda execs, horrified by the merciless criticism, rushed a heavily-revised 2013 Civic to market in 18 months. I predict it will be a close race between the Prius and Civic in 2013.
Apparently we also like cars better than trucks. In California, in 2012, passenger cars accounted for 62.9% of sales; SUVs 24.3% and pickups and vans, 12.7%. Compared to the entire country where passenger cars accounted for only 51.6% of total sales.
In 2012, hybrid registrations were 98,154 (a 7.4% of the market) and 2996 electric cars were registered (0.2% of the market) mostly Nissan Leafs, with a few Teslas thrown in. The Tesla Model S is growing in popularity. Just yesterday, on my short drive home from the gym, two of them passed me. And last week in Venice, I saw a brand new Model S parked on (appropriately) Abbot Kinney.
Toyota and Honda still dominate our market. Below is how the various manufacturers divvy up the highly-lucrative California market:
- Toyota (including Scion and Lexus) grabbed the lion’s share at 21.1%
- Honda (including Acura) 12.5%
- Ford (including Lincoln), 11.3%
- GM (Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac), 11.2%
- Nissan (including Infiniti), 8.3%
- Hyundai/Kia 8.3%
- Chrysler (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, SRT and Fiat) 5.5%
- VW (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche. Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti) 5.5%
- BMW (Including MINI and Rolls-Royce) 4.5%
- Mercedes-Benz (including smart and Sprinter light trucks) 4.1%
- Other 6.7%
The rising star in California is Hyundai’s twin, Kia, with sales up a whopping 53.3% in 2012. And a little car company whose sales are part of the “other” rounding category, Subaru, had a stellar year with sales up 44.2%. Volkswagen, in its march to conquer the world, saw its California sales increase 37.9%.
Broken down by region, in 2012, L.A. and Orange Counties accounted for 522,256 (approximately 40%) of the total 1,310,720 (retail, excluding fleet) new car registrations. Southern California (including Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Diego counties) accounted for 67% or two thirds of all registrations. That makes sense given the vast freeway systems, long distances and lack of good public transportation.
California top-selling vehicles, by segment were:
Entry Level: Nissan Versa, Kia Soul, Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta
Subcompact: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla/Matrix, VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra
Sporty Compact: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Scion tC, Hyundai Veloster
Standard Mid Size: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima
Large Mid Size: Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon
Near Luxury: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti G, Lexus ES, Lexus IS
Luxury: Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-series, Lexus GS, Audi A5, Audi A6California Auto Outlook Q4 2012
Sports Car: Porsche 911, Nissan 370Z, Chevrolet Corvette, Mazda MX-5 Miata, BMW Z4
Compact Pickup: Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline
Full Size Pickup: Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram, Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra
Minivan: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Dodge Caravan, Nissan Quest, Mazda5
Full Size Van: Ford E-Series, Ford Transit Connect, Chevrolet Express, Sprinter, Nissan NV
Compact SUV: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rouge, Jeep Wrangler
Mid Size SUV: Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento
Full Size SUV: Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Traverse
Luxury SUV: Lexus RX, BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class, Acura MDX, Mercedes GLK
You can download the full California Auto Outlook, Fourth Quarter publication here.