The Car Snob Index: Why America's Richest Cities Don't Buy American Cars

The list of metros with the lowest share of U.S.-made autos starts with New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
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There are lots of stereotypes about regions in America. People in the South are gun-toting individualists. People in San Francisco are smug liberals. People in Portland are smugger liberals. People in the Midwest are blue collar and people in New York are white collar, etc.

Are people in places across America really that different? Sure we have "Blue States" and "Red States" but in most states votes for the two political parties end up being split around 50/50.

At Priceonomics we're able to investigate what people buy and how these things vary by region. The people of Alabama and California might be different, but is there any reason to think the products they buy should be that different? An iPad or a Camry works the same in Boston and Austin after all.

We decided to look at car purchases and see how this varies by geography. America's love affair with cars is well documented - your choice of car reveals not only the features you need a in vehicle, but also what kind of image you are projecting to the world.

It turns out Americans make very different car purchases depending on where they live. The car brands that are popular in Des Moines, Iowa are completely different than the ones in San Diego, California. Do these people not all see the same advertising during football games? How could the preferences be so different?


We examined our database of over three million cars for sale to figure out where people buy American cars. Of the used cars for sale in a given city, what percentage of them are American brands like Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, etc.

See complete rankings here.

Detroit and Lansing Michigan dominate the American Cars Index with over 80% of cars for sale being American. I guess they know who butters their bread! Similarly, Midwestern cities like Akron, St. Louis, Kansas City and Omaha, and historically industrial cities like Pittsburgh buy American.

By contrast, in New York and San Francisco less than 35% of the cars for sale are American. Even Washington DC doesn't really buy American. This seems like a good spot for a bailout joke, but in fairness politicians only make up an infinitesimal portion of DC's population.


Basically, the U.S. cities that don't buy America cars are the ones that buy European and Japanese ones:

20% of the cars for sale in New York City are European while just 5.8% in Detroit and 4.3% in Lansing Michigan are. A similar story when you look at Japanese car purchases:

Here Honolulu grabs the top spot in terms of affinity for Japanese cars. The rest of the top contenders are very similar to the places that buy European: New York, San Francisco, DC, and Orange County.

We figured that some places would lean towards "buy American" but that variance in consumptions patterns across the US would be relatively low. It turns out the variance is huge -- some places seem to buy only American while others basically don't. We have no explanation for why that difference exists. It seems like a failure of marketing that Ford can be the top brand in the Omaha but extremely unpopular in Orange County. How could Ford's sales and marketing operations be so much more successful in one place versus another? It's the same car!

This article originally appeared at Priceonomics