The Most Popular Cars in American Cities

The American car market is defined by diversity underneath sameness.

In almost every part of this country, the most common cars are sedans from Honda, Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet. But this belies how different Americans truly are in their car tastes. The people of San Francisco, Denver, and Detroit have vastly different preferences in automobiles when they are not buying a standard sedan.

At YourMechanic, we have a huge dataset with the characteristics of cars we have serviced along with their location. This data allows us to analyze exactly how Americans differ in terms of their automobile preferences. And these preferences seriously contrast.

Perhaps the main way Americans deviate from each other in their car choices is whether they choose to go American. The following table displays the percentage of cars in 81 of the country’s largest markets that are American made.

American Car Index

When it comes to buying American, the Midwest reigns supreme. More than half of the top 20 cities are in that region.

At the very top of this list sits Detroit, the spiritual home of the American made car. Detroit is one of the few places where some people feel a serious stigma against driving foreign.

At the bottom of the list are large coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. The proportion of American cars is particularly low in the Bay Area. While over 75% of the cars we service in Detroit are American made, this is true of less than 30% of the cars in San Francisco and San Jose.

We explored the most unusually common car in each market, and found that the one for cities on the coasts is almost invariably Asian or European, but in the middle of the country, it is typically an American one. We must have served at least 25 cars of this make and model for it to make the list.

most unusually popular make and model of car by city

most unusually popular car by city

Examining this list, the particular car loving character of American cities shows itself. San Francisco residents love their energy efficient Priuses, Detrotians their powerful, American-made Pontiac and in nature-oriented Denver citizens, their Subarus.

It’s no surprise that the Prius is so unusually common in San Francisco, it follows the hippie stereotype of the city. This got us curious about where else hybrids are particularly popular. The following index of the most popular cities for hybrids goes beyond just the Prius to include all cars with a hybrid engine.

Hybrid index

Turns out that an affinity for hybrids is not just a characteristic of San Francisco, but California in general. The top seven cities where we service the most hybrids are in California. In fact, for each of the top markets on the West Coast cities, at least one percent of the cars are hybrids. This is true of less than 20% of our non-West Coast cities.

While some people prefer energy efficient cars, other drivers are more concerned that their car have a powerful engine. Almost 14% of the cars we service have an eight-cylinder V engine, more commonly known as a V8. V8 engines are more powerful than the four and six cylinder engines found in more than two thirds of the cars we service.

The following list shows the cities where people are most likely to have a V8 engine. It has some similarities to the American list because 25% of the American cars we service are big engined V8s, while this is true of less than 5% of foreign cars.

muscle car index

This list shows that people who live Texas and the South are much more likely to opt for a powerful car. For example, people in Baton Rouge, Houston and San Antonio are more than double as likely as Bostonians to drive a car with a V8 engine.

Another feature many car owners are concerned with is the car’s performance as a vehicle to explore nature. Subarus have a reputation for being popular among lovers of the outdoors. We were curious of whether Subaru owners were typically found in the cities that are considered most “outdoorsy.”

Subaru index

Boulder, Portland and Denver topping this list certainly goes with the nature oriented images of those cities. These are the only three cities with Subaru ownership above three percent. These cities are consistently listed among the top cities for outdoor enthusiasts.

For some Americans the practicality of a Subaru might be great, but others are more concerned with style, prestige and high performance. If they can afford it, many Americans interested in a high end cars will go for a Porsche. They are a great favorite of car collectors. We examined the places in the United States where people have the means and desire to own a Porsche? The following table lists the top ten.

Porsche top ten list

Porsches are rare everywhere, accounting for less than one in every five hundred cars we service, but they are most common in sunny California and Florida (Lakeland is a city not far from Tampa). Perhaps because these people can best enjoy the top down capacities of the Porsche convertible.

The car is at the very center of many Americans lives. It can be a necessity, passion and a way to establish identity. As the number of car choices has increased, the car makeup of American cities have become vastly different. People in the Midwest are more likely to choose powerful American cars, while people on the coast are more likely to go for foreign, energy efficiency ones. Increased choice has unveiled the distinct character of American automotive desires.


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