Coast to Coast 2014: New Mexico

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier
The Dodge Dart is the hero in town in Albuquerque NM

* You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

After detailing the history and highlights of the Old Route 66 from Oklahoma to New Mexico, we now pause in New Mexico to analyse the vehicle landscape in Albuquerque and Gallup. This, a special feature on ethnic car buyers’ preferences and state-wide sales data below.

Ford F-250 in Gallup NM

First a bit of trivia about New Mexico: this state is the 5th most extensive (121,589 sq mi or 315,194 km2), the 36th most populous (2.1 million inhabitants) and the 6th least densely populated of the 50 United States. Inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Americas for centuries before European exploration, New Mexico then belonged to the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain, then part of Mexico, a U.S. territory before finally becoming the 47th state in 1912. During World War II, the first atomic bombs were designed and manufactured at Los Alamos NM.

Ford F-150 in Gallup NM

New Mexico is often mistakenly believed to have borrowed its name from the nation of Mexico. This couldn’t be further from actual facts: New Mexico was originally given its name in 1563 by Spanish explorers who believed the area contained wealthy Indian cultures similar to those of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire. It was only centuries later in 1821 that Mexico, formerly known as New Spain, adopted its name after winning independence from Spain. Interestingly, the two developed as neighbouring Spanish speaking communities, with relatively independent histories.

Vintage Chevrolet in Gallup NM

Population-wise, among U.S. states New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics (47%), including descendants of Spanish colonists and more recent Latin American immigrants. We will see a little further that this has an impact on new car sales in the state. It also has the second-highest percentage of Native Americans after Alaska, and the fourth-highest total number of Native Americans after California, Oklahoma, and Arizona – notably Navajo, Apache and Pueblo tribes.

New Mexico licence plate

As a result, New Mexico’s culture is unique in the United States for its strong Hispanic and Native-American influences, both of which translated into the state flag: the red and gold colours are inspired from the flag of Spain, while the ancient sun symbol comes from the Zia, a Pueblo-related tribe. Last bit of trivia more closely related to my Coast to Coast Photo Report: we have now driven 4.000 miles since departure from New York City… That’s it for the trivia, now let’s get into the car landscape in the state, with a focus on its largest city Albuquerque as well as Gallup, further down the Old Route 66.

My Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert in Albuquerque NM

The best-selling models in New Mexico over the Full Year 2013 were as follows:

PosModel20131Ford F-1504,7572Chevrolet Silverado3,6013Ram Pickup3,3684GMC Sierra2,2145Ford F-250 Super Duty1,837

Source: JATO

Ram Pickup in Albuquerque NM

These figures make New Mexico the second state only so far along my Coast to Coast trip to crown 5 pickup trucks as its Top 5 most popular vehicles, after Oklahoma. Again this can be attributed to the relative rurality of the state but is still a remarkable achievement. At some stages during our crossing of New Mexico in remote areas towards the border with Arizona, up to 60% of all vehicles in circulation were pickup trucks. In Albuquerque, the Ford F-250 lifts its game to almost come as high in popularity as the F-150 as it has sometimes been the case in a few towns so far in this trip. In Gallup NM, the Chevy Silverado seems even stronger than usual and the Ram Pickup’s most popular variant is the Tradesman base model like the one I have been driving (Albert), and this for the first time in this Coast to Coast adventure.

Ford Econoline in Albuquerque NM

Onto real-life observations in the busy streets of Albuquerque and Gallup. The age of cars is stuck at a much older level than I have been used to during this crossing of the nation, only difference is in New Mexico a lot of these vintage items reach levels of cool unheard of before. Cue 1970s Ford Econovan, 1980s Ford F-150, and a plethora of souped up older generations Dodge Ram Pickups and Chevy Silverados. They say New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, I say it’s the Land of Car Coolness.

Hyundai Elantra in front of the legendary Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque NM

In a fascinating turn and in complete contrast to the Top 5 best-sellers state-wise, the most striking element of the car landscape in Albuquerque is the strength of smaller passenger cars, both in numbers and diversity, to a level that I had not seen since Washington DC. I will advance a very simple reason for this phenomenon: the high ratio of students in town, which houses the University of New Mexico. I saw the first two Fiat 500L of this entire trip in this city, as well as very healthy numbers of Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Versa, Kia Soul, Toyota Corolla and VW Jetta.

Albert on the New Mexico state line

But 3 passenger cars stand out even more, and on top of them a complete surprise: the Dodge Dart. A failure since its botched “manual only” launch 2.5 years ago, the Dart has struggled to break into the 50 most popular vehicles in the country. In Albuquerque however, it is as common as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, up there among its competitors in its segment. This is also supported by a very strong heritage of Dodge Neon which was the predecessor to the Dart, discontinued in 2005. So we have an Albuquerque community clearly fond of compact Dodge sedans here, which is an extremely rare feat!

Mercury Sable and Dodge Dart in Albuquerque NM

Decades of precise vehicle landscape observation in hundreds of cities around the world have given me a solid experience at estimating the best-sellers based on their frequency in traffic, and I rarely get it very wrong. I would see the Dart snapping up a spot in the overall Top 10 Albuquerque best-sellers, at least for a few months since launch. I was not able to confirm nor infirm this observation with hard figures, and if in fact the Dart is at its best in the USA in Albuquerque, this is the most well-kept secret in US car sales statistics as both Melloy Dodge and Larry H. Miller, the two Dodge dealerships in town, repeatedly refused to comment on this (positive) anomaly. Bizarre. If one town has unlocked the Dart’s sales potential, I’d have assumed they’d show off about it. I’m still making the Dodge Dart the Hero in Town in Albuquerque.

Toyota Tacoma in Albuquerque NM

The second passenger car standing out in town is the Chevrolet Impala, and although it is notorious that a large part of Impala sales are to fleets and rentals, Albuquerque is among the towns I have visited so far where it is the most popular, and being neither the most touristic nor the more corporate town of them all, a boost from ‘real’ private sales has to be in order. The third one is a new entrant in my long list of successful cars in various states, regions and cities along this Coast to Coast trip: the Ford Fiesta sedan. Very discreet up until now, a whole herd of them is bustling through the streets of Albuquerque as I write these lines. Here again a perfect student car which could explain its popularity in town.

Fiat 500L in Albuquerque NM

These last 3 models were the most striking standouts compared to their national ranking, but a large majority of passenger cars are Japanese, with Toyota, Nissan and Honda the most common. I have already covered the fact that as we get closer to the border with Mexico where it is #1 overall with a world-best 26% market share, Nissan’s popularity rockets up. This is also true in New Mexico and Albuquerque, and a recent study of new car sales to ethnic buyers by IHS Automotive confirms it all.

Brands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)

According to IHS, new vehicle consumption among ethnic consumers, defined as African-American, Asian and Hispanic buyers, is up 8% year-on-year over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 4% for the overall industry, with Hispanic consumption up an even more impressive 10%, in effect lifting the overall US car market up. Ethnic population growing faster than the national average, this is a very important trend in the U.S. new vehicle market as the share of ethnic buyers in the overall market is bound to become more and more prominent. The side-effect of this is manufacturers doing well with ethnic buyers have great chances to see their national market share outperform the market in the next decade. There should be a red flag here for the Detroit Big 3 as ethnic buyer patterns show a strong preference for foreign brands – albeit most of the cars they purchase still being made in the U.S.

Nissan Versa in Albuquerque NM. Nissan buyers are 36% ethnic, the highest of any brand.

Unsurprisingly based on our observations during this Coast to Coast trip so far, Nissan is the brand with the highest share of ethnic buyers in America at 36%, followed by Mitsubishi (35%), Toyota (33%) and Honda (31%) while Dodge is the only American brand in the Top 13 brands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers in 5th place with 30%. Could this partly explain the tremendous success of the Dodge Dart in Albuquerque? Notice the exceptional strength of premium marques such as Lexus, BMW both at 29% of ethnic buyers, Mercedes at 28%, Acura at 28% and Maserati at 27%.

Brands with the highest volumes to ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)

In terms of market share, Toyota holds almost 18% of the 1.6 million new vehicles ethnic consumers have bought over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 12.2% share of the overall national market, followed by Honda at 12.2% vs. 8.1% and Nissan at 11.1% vs. 7.9%, Chevrolet at a timid 4th place with 8.6% share vs. 12.6% nationally, while Ford is at an even more unimpressive 8.4% share, that’s almost half the market share it has with the entire American population at 15%.

This is it for New Mexico, next stop is Monument Valley at the border of Arizona and Utah, so stay tuned!

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a car sales statistics website and consultancy: BestSellingCars which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

Chevrolet Silverado in Albuquerque NM
Toyota Prius in front of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque NM
Ford F-150 in Albuquerque NM
Ford F-250 in Albuquerque NM
Albert and Nissan Versa Note in Gallup NM
Chevrolet Silverado in Albuquerque NM
Toyota Corolla in Albuquerque NM
Chevrolet Impala in Albuquerque NM
Street scene in Albuquerque NM
Hummer in Albuquerque NM
Street scene in Albuquerque NM
Nissan Sentra in Gallup NM
Street scene in Albuquerque NM
Matt Gasnier
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  • -Nate -Nate on Nov 21, 2014

    New Mexico is very nice . I love the wide open spaces and great food . You cannot possibly imagine the sun rises and sunsets until you've seen them in person . One issue is the amount of ' impaired ' drivers after sun set , anywhere in the entire State ~ look it up , I am not kidding nor wrong . I had to show my buddies the drive up liquor stores before they'd believe me , I even asked the Clerk for " A freeway bag please " to hold my bottle of Schnapps , he said ' of course Sir ! . '. Lots of old vehicles there too , always a big plus for me . Visit there , you won't be sorry . -Nate

  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on Nov 23, 2014

    If you think you don't like NM, go to the Santa Fe Opera sometime. Arrive a little early. Have a couple of cocktails. Ignore the opera. Just take in the view. That is the reason why that neck of the woods has been a major artists' colony for almost a century.

  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.
  • Joe65688619 I agree there should be more sedans, but recognize the trend. There's still a market for performance oriented-drivers. IMHO a low budget sedan will always be outsold by a low budget SUV. But a sports sedan, or a well executed mid-level sedan (the Accord and Camry) work. Smaller market for large sedans except I think for an older population. What I'm hoping to see is some consolidation across brands - the TLX for example is not selling well, but if it was offered only in the up-level configurations it would not be competing with it's Honda sibling. I know that makes the market smaller and niche, but that was the original purpose of the "luxury" brands - badge-engineering an existing platform at a relatively lower cost than a different car and sell it with a higher margin for buyers willing and able to pay for them. Also creates some "brand cachet." But smart buyers know that simple badging and slightly better interiors are usually not worth the cost. Put the innovative tech in the higher-end brands first, differentiate they drivetrain so it's "better" (the RDX sells well for Acura, same motor and tranmission, added turbo which makes a notable difference compared to the CRV). The sedan in many Western European countries is the "family car" as opposed to micro and compact crossovers (which still sell big, but can usually seat no more than a compact sedan).
  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
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