Do you drive a red or blue state car?

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Bet you’ve never thought about how your personal politics might be related to the brand of car you drive – or if that brand might be a reflection of your politics? I hadn’t either until I came across some research the major car companies are paying a lot of attention to. And there’s nothing like combining a guy’s two favorite subjects – cars and politics – to get my attention.

Edmunds.com is a favorite web haunt dealing with all things automotive – vehicle values, road tests, consumer reviews, government safety testing and the like. If you’re into cars, it can keep you digging around on the subject for a long time. But I’d never thought of it as a place to go for political or economic news. Seems it is.

Our “Big Three” automakers are totaling the numbers to see how well they did in 2012. Two key factors used to measure success are sales and market share. These are reliable – though shifting – benchmarks and the news is expected to be good. As far as it goes. But Edmunds has begun pointing out a third measure for a successful year. And that factor is not good for domestics. In fact, it’s troubling.

Edmunds researchers have found brands of the Big Three are becoming “regionalized.” Each may have a strong following and a sales lead in one area of the country while losing share in another part. In fact, core markets can be rooted so deeply that sales for any one of the three can go way up. Or drop way off.

Let’s call it the “Red State-Blue State” phenomena. State-by-state sales data strongly indicates cars made by the Detroit Three are largely Red State cars, popular with people in the heartland that vote Republican. Yep, it’s true. And imports, by contrast, do better in Blue States where the majority of voters are Democrats. Usually on or near both coasts.

“So what,” you ask? “Who cares?”

Well, the Big Three care. A lot. Because the news doesn’t favor domestic brands. Red states tend to be more rural, less populated and slower-growing than the rest of the country. The top 10 in order: Michigan, North/South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Indiana. They have in common stable or declining populations (except for North Dakota which is temporary), are mostly ignored by national media and have little impact on broad national trends.

Now, Blue States. Mostly import brands. In order: Hawaii, District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Florida, Maryland and Washington State. Coastal states with higher populations (potential buyers) and more traffic. Smaller import cars sell much better than the Big Three.

Look closer. Check metro areas. Domestics sell well in Buffalo, Cleveland and Indianapolis – Reds. But imports beat ‘em in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Portland and Seattle. Growing areas. Also New York City, Washington, DC and Los Angeles – the so-called “media and opinion centers.” Blues.

Bottom line: If Big Three sales leads are mostly in stable or declining states or markets, there’s no chance for larger numbers. Stagnation or even decline will eventually occur. But the Blues, if they’re more upbeat with growing markets (populations) with better economies, market share – and thus sales – will continue to expand.
Of course, these are broad statistical findings and there are many exceptions. In our Blue State, I drive a domestic pickup and Barb drives an import built in this country. And I’m a registered Independent. She’s not.

But the Edmunds findings are statistically comprehensive and quite meaningful. When you’re talking in the millions of vehicles, they’re worth some really deep studying. And attention.

The terms “Red State” and Blue State” were conceived decades ago by an NBC-TV director who wanted a more vivid visual appearance on election night graphics. But, like so many words and terms in our language, they’ve taken on other, more important meanings. To you and me, we use them mostly to describe Republican and Democrat politics.

But to our domestic automakers, their meaning is directly economic. And the more red they see, the worse the future will look. Keep this in mind as you watch the next couple of national elections.

Maybe you’ll want to re-evaluate your auto stocks.

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