* See the Top 10 best-selling models by clicking on the title *
After Alaska, we now cover Full Year 2015 results for another isolated U.S. state: Hawaii, with such a peculiar environment triggering a unique new light vehicle market that a separate annual report is warranted. Keep in mind the figures detailed in this report are already included in the annual U.S. data published on BSCB as this is a special focus only. Further Photo Reports on Hawaii will follow shortly.
Home of 1.4 million inhabitants, the Hawaiian Islands are located 2.000 miles (3.200 km) southwest of the “mainland” as the continental United States is known here, making Hawaii the southernmost U.S. state but not the westernmost: Alaska goes further west as you can see on the map above. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that is not geographically located in North America, the only one in which coffee is cultivable and the only one that has never recorded sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures, with its record low temperature being 12 °F (−11 °C) observed in May 1979 on the summit of Mauna Kea.
Hawaii is also the only state to crown the Toyota Tacoma as its overall best-seller, and the mid-size pickup has been the favourite vehicle on the archipelago for at least 13 years, with reports of it being #1 surfacing as far back as 2003 when it sold 3.736 units. In 2004, with 3.969 sales it distanced the Chevrolet Cavalier (3.399) and among trucks the Ford F-Series (2.560), Nissan Frontier (2.262), Ford Explorer (1.934) and Chevrolet Trailblazer (1.645). Fast forward to 2015, and the Tacoma has remained on its coveted throne, even strengthening its hold on the Hawaiian market.
Toyota is the best-selling car manufacturer in Hawaii in 2015 and holds a mammoth 56% share in the light truck segment. According to 247wallst.com, Hawaii is also the only state in the country where Toyota is the most popular brand based on Internet searches, all industries combined. Even more impressive, according to Servco Toyota Kaneohe Sales Consultant Noe Yaplag, the Tacoma holds 78% of the mid-size pickup market, and this despite the recent return of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, still very rare on the O’ahu island I visited.
According to the magazine Popular Mechanics, the Toyota Tacoma sells around eight times faster in Hawaii than it does across the U.S. Keep in mind almost all Tacomas are retail sales in Hawaii as rental companies focus on passenger cars such as the Nissan Altima, Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra or SUVs such as the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota RAV4. In 2015, the Tacoma even widened the gap with its direct followers with sales up 5% year-on-year to 3.951 units, vs. just 1.795 for the Nissan Altima, down 27%. The rest of the Top 6: the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and CR-V also all lose ground. The Chevrolet Camaro and Toyota 4Runner make their appearance inside the Top 10 while the Nissan Sentra is down 22% to #10.
So what is behind the tremendous and unique popularity of the Toyota Tacoma in Hawaii? There are a few elements at play. Noe Yaplag from Servco Toyota Kaneohe advances a few explanations: the Tacoma is now purchased as a family car as well as a workhorse – following the worldwide trend away from passenger cars and towards more sophisticated pickup trucks – its price is range remains contained to US$27k-35k and the new generation brought some segment-leading features such as a very practical wireless phone charging deck. But for Noe, the main reason for the Tacoma’s popularity is its high resale value as featured in the respected BlueBook. Although I agree with all of these explanations, they don’t seem to cover such a sales success – more than double any other nameplate in the state – and why specifically the Tacoma and not the Ford F-Series as it is the case nationally.
The volcanic geography of the archipelago could explain the choice of a pickup truck as the best-seller here, however according to Servco Toyota only 20% of Tacomas are purchased in their 4WD variant. Rather, one very important element that cannot be discarded is the ethnic composition of the Hawaii population. Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asian Americans and multiracial Americans and the lowest percentage of white Americans of any state in the U.S. It is also the only state where Asian Americans identify as the largest ethnic group at 39% of the population and in 2011, 14.5% of births were to white, non-Hispanic parents. This goes a long way in explaining the presence of 8 Japanese nameplates inside the 2015 Hawaiian Top 10, as well as the domination of Toyota and of the Tacoma, because non-white ethnic groups have been shown to purchase non-American brands at a higher rate. This is also consistent with the location of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, where purchase patterns traditionally and markedly converge towards Toyota and Asian brands in general as the population relates more closely to this part of the world culturally.
This way, instead of opting for the default full-size Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado, Hawaiians go for the (slightly) smaller, more affordable mid-size Toyota Tacoma and, historically, Nissan Frontier even though the latter has dropped from the Top 10 best-sellers in recent years. Last but not least, the long-running leading market share the Tacoma has commended over the past twenty years has progressively shaped it into the default choice for a new vehicle, a typical inertia phenomenon that, in the absence of any notable reliability issues, has only reinforced its stranglehold on the market.
If you live in Hawaii and have additional elements to help explain the Tacoma’s hegemony here, please do share your insights in the comments section of this article.
Every U.S. State available here: USA Full Year 2015: Exclusive State by State rankings now available
Full Year 2015 Top 10 best-selling models vs. Full 2014 figures below.