If you pulled into a Whole Foods parking lot anywhere in Colorado last year you would have thought the Subaru Outback was the state’s most popular car. And you would have been wrong. The Ford F-series truck was king. To find out why, I called Jack Nerad, an executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
“Most of what makes a particular vehicle number one in a state has to do with distribution and the number of dealers in a state,” Nerad says. Or put another way, if there are more Ford dealers in a state than Subaru dealers, Ford has a better chance of winning. The Outback was Colorado’s best-selling car in 2014 (according to IHS Markit, the research firm that conducts the nationwide study each year), but Ford appears to have done a better job of blanketing the state last year.
Nerad says the back-and-forth leaderboard is also influenced by the lifecycle of particular models. In 2014, Subaru came out with an all-new Outback mid-way through the year, which helps explain its rise to the top spot. In 2015, Ford’s all-new F-150 rolled out, plus the company slashed prices on older models, driving it to the top.
This isn’t to say Subaru fell off the map. Mike Campbell, Subaru of America’s vice president of field and distributor operations, says that, in 2015, Subaru Outback sales actually increased in Colorado.
It’s no surprise that Subaru and Ford are at the top in Colorado. Both have the kind of off-road prowess drivers want in mountainous and snowy state. It’s also no surprise that Ford and Chevy trucks dominate farm country and the Midwest, and that a fuel-efficient car like Honda Civic was the most popular car in California.
One anomaly that I wanted to check was Connecticut. Back in 2014 the Forester was the most popular car there. It was the only state where this Subaru model beat out the Outback. Even right next door in Vermont, drivers preferred the Outback. Michael McHale, Subaru of America’s corporate communications director, says it likely has to do with how each vehicle is marketed.
“The Forester is marketed as more of a suburban family vehicle—something perfect for Connecticut. Whereas the Outback is sold more as a tough, adventure vehicle, and it’s a story that plays well in more mountainous states like Vermont and Colorado,” he says. The data would seem to bear this out. The following year, Connecticut drivers flocked to the all-new, family-oriented Honda CR-V, while Vermonters decided to buy a ton of new GMC Sierra pickups.
New data for 2016 sales will land from IHS early next spring, and we'll watch to see which companies continue to do the best jobs in dealer distribution, car development, and marketing.