Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.
After detailing the history and milestones of the Old Route 66 from Oklahoma to New Mexico, we now pause in New Mexico to analyse the vehicle landscape in Albuquerque and Gallup. This, a special feature on ethnic car buyers’ preferences and state-wise sales data below.
First a bit of trivia about New Mexico: this state is the 5th most extensive (121,589 sq mi or 315,194 km2), the 36th most populous (2.1 million inhabitants) and the 6th least densely populated of the 50 United States. Inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Americas for centuries before European exploration, New Mexico then belonged to the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain, then part of Mexico, a U.S. territory before finally becoming the 47th state in 1912. During World War II, the first atomic bombs were designed and manufactured at Los Alamos NM.
New Mexico is often mistakenly believed to have borrowed its name from the nation of Mexico. This couldn’t be further from actual facts: New Mexico was originally given its name in 1563 by Spanish explorers who believed the area contained wealthy Indian cultures similar to those of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire. It was only centuries later in 1821 that Mexico, formerly known as New Spain, adopted its name after winning independence from Spain. Interestingly, the two developed as neighbouring Spanish speaking communities, with relatively independent histories.
Population-wise, among U.S. states New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics (47%), including descendants of Spanish colonists and more recent Latin American immigrants. We will see a little further that this has an impact on new car sales in the state. It also has the second-highest percentage of Native Americans after Alaska, and the fourth-highest total number of Native Americans after California, Oklahoma, and Arizona – notably Navajo, Apache and Pueblo tribes.
As a result, New Mexico’s culture is unique in the United States for its strong Hispanic and Native-American influences, both of which translated into the state flag: the red and gold colours are inspired from the flag of Spain, while the ancient sun symbol comes from the Zia, a Pueblo-related tribe. Last bit of trivia more closely related to my Coast to Coast Photo Report: we have now driven 4.000 miles since departure from New York City… That’s it for the trivia, now let’s get into the car landscape in the state, with a focus on its largest city Albuquerque as well as Gallup, further down the Old Route 66.
The best-selling models in New Mexico over the Full Year 2013 were as follows:
|5||Ford F-250 Super Duty||1,837|
These figures make New Mexico the second state only so far along my Coast to Coast trip to crown 5 pickup trucks as its Top 5 most popular vehicles, after Oklahoma. Again this can be attributed to the relative rurality of the state but is still a remarkable achievement. At some stages during our crossing of New Mexico in remote areas towards the border with Arizona, up to 60% of all vehicles in circulation were pickup trucks. In Albuquerque, the Ford F-250 lifts its game to almost come as high in popularity as the F-150 as it has sometimes been the case in a few towns so far in this trip. In Gallup NM, the Chevy Silverado seems even stronger than usual and the Ram Pickup’s most popular variant is the Tradesman base model like the one I have been driving (Albert), and this for the first time in this Coast to Coast adventure.
Onto real-life observations in the busy streets of Albuquerque and Gallup. The age of cars is stuck at a much older level than I have been used to during this crossing of the nation, only difference is in New Mexico a lot of these vintage items reach levels of cool unheard of before. Cue 1970s Ford Econovan, 1980s Ford F-150, and a plethora of souped up older generations Dodge Ram Pickups and Chevy Silverados. They say New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, I say it’s the Land of Car Coolness.
In a fascinating turn and in complete contrast to the Top 5 best-sellers state-wise, the most striking element of the car landscape in Albuquerque is the strength of smaller passenger cars, both in numbers and diversity, to a level that I had not seen since Washington DC. I will advance a very simple reason for this phenomenon: the high ratio of students in town, which houses the University of New Mexico. I saw the first two Fiat 500L of this entire trip in this city, as well as very healthy numbers of Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Versa, Kia Soul, Toyota Corolla and VW Jetta.
But 3 passenger cars stand out even more, and on top of them a complete surprise: the Dodge Dart. A failure since its botched “manual only” launch 2.5 years ago, the Dart has struggled to break into the 50 most popular vehicles in the country. In Albuquerque however, it is as common as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, up there among its competitors in its segment. This is also supported by a very strong heritage of Dodge Neon which was the predecessor to the Dart, discontinued in 2005. So we have an Albuquerque community clearly fond of compact Dodge sedans here, which is an extremely rare feat!
Decades of precise vehicle landscape observation in hundreds of cities around the world have given me a solid experience at estimating the best-sellers based on their frequency in traffic, and I rarely get it very wrong. I would see the Dart snapping up a spot in the overall Top 10 Albuquerque best-sellers, at least for a few months since launch. I was not able to confirm nor infirm this observation with hard figures, and if in fact the Dart is at its best in the USA in Albuquerque, this is the most well-kept secret in US car sales statistics as both Melloy Dodge and Larry H. Miller, the two Dodge dealerships in town, repeatedly refused to comment on this (positive) anomaly. Bizarre. If one town has unlocked the Dart’s sales potential, I’d have assumed they’d show off about it. I’m still making the Dodge Dart the Hero in Town in Albuquerque.
The second passenger car standing out in town is the Chevrolet Impala, and although it is notorious that a large part of Impala sales are to fleets and rentals, Albuquerque is among the towns I have visited so far where it is the most popular, and being neither the most touristic nor the more corporate town of them all, a boost from ‘real’ private sales has to be in order. The third one is a new entrant in my long list of successful cars in various states, regions and cities along this Coast to Coast trip: the Ford Fiesta sedan. Very discreet up until now, a whole herd of them is bustling through the streets of Albuquerque as I write these lines. Here again a perfect student car which could explain its popularity in town.
These last 3 models were the most striking standouts compared to their national ranking, but a large majority of passenger cars are Japanese, with Toyota, Nissan and Honda the most common. I have already covered the fact that as we get closer to the border with Mexico where it is #1 overall with a world-best 26% market share, Nissan’s popularity rockets up. This is also true in New Mexico and Albuquerque, and a recent study of new car sales to ethnic buyers by IHS Automotive confirms it all.
Brands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)
According to IHS, new vehicle consumption among ethnic consumers, defined as African-American, Asian and Hispanic buyers, is up 8% year-on-year over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 4% for the overall industry, with Hispanic consumption up an even more impressive 10%, in effect lifting the overall US car market up. Ethnic population growing faster than the national average, this is a very important trend in the U.S. new vehicle market as the share of ethnic buyers in the overall market is bound to become more and more prominent. The side-effect of this is manufacturers doing well with ethnic buyers have great chances to see their national market share outperform the market in the next decade. There should be a red flag here for the Detroit Big 3 as ethnic buyer patterns show a strong preference for foreign brands – albeit most of the cars they purchase still being made in the U.S.
Unsurprisingly based on our observations during this Coast to Coast trip so far, Nissan is the brand with the highest share of ethnic buyers in America at 36%, followed by Mitsubishi (35%), Toyota (33%) and Honda (31%) while Dodge is the only American brand in the Top 13 brands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers in 5th place with 30%. Could this partly explain the tremendous success of the Dodge Dart in Albuquerque? Notice the exceptional strength of premium marques such as Lexus, BMW both at 29% of ethnic buyers, Mercedes at 28%, Acura at 28% and Maserati at 27%.
In terms of market share, Toyota holds almost 18% of the 1.6 million new vehicles ethnic consumers have bought over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 12.2% share of the overall national market, followed by Honda at 12.2% vs. 8.1% and Nissan at 11.1% vs. 7.9%, Chevrolet at a timid 4th place with 8.6% share vs. 12.6% nationally, while Ford is at an even more unimpressive 8.4% share, that’s almost half the market share it has with the entire American population at 15%.
This is it for New Mexico, next stop is Monument Valley at the border of Arizona and Utah, so stay tuned!
The Full Photo Report (27 illustrations) continues below.