It's long been conventional wisdom that big cities--centers of population, wealth and commerce--are where the most luxury cars are sold. It turns out, however, that you're more than likely to see a Lamborghini on the streets in Missouri, where Chevrolet is the biggest-selling brand in general, or a Ferrari in Washington state.
There were just as many Ferraris sold in Washington last year as there were in Connecticut, a well-known haven for Wall-Street warriors and home to some of the country's most expensive ZIP codes. In fact, the states with the highest populations don't necessarily sell the highest number of cars each year--and they certainly don't always sell the most luxury cars.
In Depth: States With The Most Expensive Cars
Minnesota, for instance, is the eighth-most populous state in the union, but it didn't make our list of top-sellers for luxury vehicles. And while Michigan is the ninth-most populous state, it registers thousands more high-end cars each year than Illinois, which has the fifth-highest people of any state.
Broadly speaking, however, California, Florida and New York are the epicenters for luxury and exotic cars. That's important because automakers must cater to their widest audiences as they introduce each new model--especially with launches of 2010 models in high gear.
Behind the Numbers
To determine the states where drivers purchase the most luxury cars, we used data provided by Experian Automotive, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based analysis and consulting firm. Experian provided registration numbers, by car brand, for each state and further itemized each car brand based on where it registered the most units. We then calculated the percentage of luxury cars sold compared to total new cars sold in each state and ranked them accordingly.
Experian analysts tallied the number of registrations of all new models sold in the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the reporting period of September 2008 to August 2009. The numbers reflect individual registrations, not fleet or business sales.
Such data help manufacturers know their strongest markets--and learn where they can improve. The information helps automakers define and satisfy their customer, says Jeff Anderson, director of consulting and analytics for Experian Automotive--which is especially important in such a loyalty-driven industry.
Almost 70% of consumers purchase the same make or brand as their current vehicle, according to an Oct. 28 study by the global consulting firm Capgemini. That number is up from 61% last year. A full 63% of respondents said they would purchase from the same dealer where they bought their current car. Its a sign of the times, says Joseph Oddo, a senior manager at Capgemini.
"There is an uptick as far as brand loyalty and as far as consumer satisfaction with the buying process," he says, noting that luxury dealerships do particularly well at creating repeat customers.. "You go to a brand you know, that you can trust--especially with high-ticket items like a vehicle."
Pockets of Luxury
The big three sellers on our luxury list are Lexus (153,809 units sold nationwide), BMW (144,472 units sold nationwide) and Mercedes-Benz (131,146 units sold nationwide).
In California, consumers tend to buy German: Drivers there are more than twice as likely to buy a BMW than any other luxury brand. In fact, the big two German automakers made the No. 1 or No. 2 slots in all 10 states that landed on our list. California, Florida, New York and Texas--in that order--were the top-selling states for each of those brands.
Florida is the standout, as it has a smaller population than both New York and Texas (18.3 million compared to 19.5 million and 24.3 million), but it outsells both of them when it comes to luxury cars. Almost 14% of all cars sold in Florida are from luxury brands, versus 11% in New York and just 6% in Texas--which is even more remarkable because the median income for Florida last year ($48,095) was less than that of New York ($51,763).
It could be partly because Miami in particular is experiencing a cultural renaissance. Sissy DeMaria, the president of Kreps DeMaria, a Miami-based marketing firm, says Latin American developers--who have escaped the recession largely unscathed--have dramatically boosted the local economy by investing heavily in luxury hotels, retail outlets and million-dollar homes around the city. Miami is for sale, DeMaria says. That influx of funds likely applies to cars as well.
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The northern U.S. tells a different story. German automakers BMW and Mercedes sell many more units in Los Angeles than in Detroit: "Domestics and Japanese reign supreme in Motown," says Mike Caudill, an automotive expert for the vehicle data Web site NADA Guides. Cadillac sold 3,000 more cars in Michigan than any of its luxury competitors.
Maserati topped the list among brands that sell 1,200 models a year or less in all but three states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Drivers in those states seem to prefer their cars to be of British heritage--Bentley registered 63 units in New Jersey and 20 in Pennsylvania. Aston Martin registered 20 cars in Virginia, which Anderson says makes sense when you consider that the staid wealth that has accumulated around the nation's capital is likely to prefer an understated vehicle, rather than something flashier, like a Ferrari.
And while neither appears on the final list, two other European brands--Rolls-Royce and Maybach--reported disproportionately high (albeit extremely exclusive) registration numbers in Nevada. That's thanks, no doubt, to the real estate titans and entertainment moguls in Las Vegas, Anderson says.
So why are Lamborghinis so popular in Missouri? For the same reason they are anywhere else a Lambo dealership opens.
"It's the bravado of the Lamborghini, the attraction," says Steve Burks, the marketing director at Motorcars International in Springfield, Mo. "The extreme aggressiveness of the car basically just draws people to the brand." Even in a state where most people drive a Chevy.
In Depth: States With The Most Expensive Cars
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