News flash for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend: Detroit is the most patriotic car-buying city, because that’s where Americans buy American — 67 percent of consumers in a CarGurus survey said they intended to buy domestic. The runner-up cities are St. Louis (also 67 percent, but with a higher percentage of Asian car buyers) and Cleveland (59 percent).
And which cities are the least patriotic? The bluest ones, of course: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston. Although the Tea Party should perhaps take note that Phoenix, Salt Lake City and San Diego are failing to show off their red, white and blue; all had high percentage of foreign car intenders.
OK, that’s as far as I’m going to go taking this survey seriously. As my colleague Jim Henry, a former car marketing guy, points out, “Everybody and his uncle and his third cousin in the Detroit area and much of the Midwest gets a ‘family’ or ‘employee’ discount on Big Three products.” In fact, Henry points out that the respected global auto forecasting company Polk gives customers the option of leaving those geographic areas out of the samples, because the discounts (10 to 15 percent below the invoice price) skew registrations so heavily to the domestic brands.
Henry isn’t kidding about everybody getting that discount. Ford’s AXZ Plan, for instance, goes to all employees (including part-timers), retirees, laid-off workers and surviving spouses. Grandchildren and grandparents get it, brothers and sisters, in-laws, step-children and same-sex domestic partners. You’re an immediate family member of a same-sex domestic partner? Sign here. Does this take in the entire population of the state of Michigan?
Langley Steinert, who is both founder of CarGurus and a co-founder of the major Trip Advisor site, concedes the point. “When we were pulling the data together, we didn’t think much of causality,” he told me. “But since your inquiry we looked into it, and according to U.S. Department of Labor data, Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland are rated number 1, 3 and 5 in auto manufacturing concentration. And it’s not a huge leap of faith to think that people in the auto field will buy American.”
Nope, not a big leap at all. Steiner also told me that the foreign car skew in some red cities could be related to income levels — the more money you have, the more likely you are to buy a BMW or Mercedes. Sounds good, but he didn’t have any actual evidence. Anyone with eyes can see that the east and west coasts have much heavier concentrations of foreign cars than the domestic-heavy Midwest.
Here’s another way of looking at it: Since everyone agrees that getting us off foreign oil is the patriotic thing to do, maybe buying domestic isn’t what really matters. Let’s have an alternative survey that looks at cities with the best fuel economy on the road. It might stand the CarGurus results on their head, but that’s fine with me. Happy motoring.
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