By on October 20, 2015

Chevrolet Colorado Juneau

After Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, we fly south to Alaska’s capital city, Juneau.

Juneau is America’s only state capital that cannot be reached by car — only boat or plane — as its road network does not connect it to any other towns. It is bound to stay that way as half its residents and its mayor opposed a plan to build a road that would. But even though you can’t drive anywhere, Juneau has a very dynamic car park.

First, a little more trivia on Juneau, which owes its existence to Alaska’s first major gold strike in 1880 and was the first town to be founded after Alaska’s purchase from the Russians in 1867. The Alaskan capital was originally Sitka on the Pacific Ocean coast, but after the whaling and fur trade declined and reduced Sitka’s importance, it was moved to Juneau in 1906 and remains so until today, despite many challenges to move it again as I described in the previous episode of this series.

Ford F-350 Juneau

Flying from Anchorage to Juneau is like flying above an altogether different planet. The Bering Glacier, Kluane National Park, Tatshenshini Alsek Park (Canada) and Glacier Bay National Park unfold before your wide open eyes. You’ll see glaciers stretching for over 100 miles before breaking directly onto the Pacific Ocean as tiny-looking icebergs while turquoise waters meander between snow-covered peaks towering the clouds. Landing in Juneau is also an interesting experience, as the landing strip has a parallel waterway to allow take-off and landing of the multitude of float planes present in town.

Juneau street scene 2

Almost a million cruise-ship passengers unload onto Juneau each year, and the historic downtown area all but closes when ships sail away. There are a handful of new car dealerships in Juneau, and they naturally have a drastic impact on the car landscape in town. The most striking element of the Juneau car park is the outstanding domination of Subaru. Roughly one in every five vehicles in circulation in the Alaskan capital is a Subaru, which has to be a world record. Not even at home in Japan can Subaru boast such ratios, which were calculated on a representative sample of 400 vehicles in town.

Subaru Forester Juneau 2

Subaru almost certainly does not command as much as 20 percent of the Juneau new light vehicle market. However, it looks like every owner has been clinging to their Subaru since the first ones hit the streets in the ’80s, resulting in a higher car park ratio. All generations of Forester, Outback, Legacy and Impreza are happily streaming the streets of Juneau.

Subaru Legacy Juneau

Leo from Mendenhall Auto Centre confirmed Subaru is the best-selling brand in town, with the Forester the best-seller by a very large margin. This particular dealership sells roughly five Foresters for every Outback that leaves their lot. Let’s keep in mind Mendenhall Auto Centre is also the official Juneau dealer for Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda, but still sells more Subarus than any other brand. Subarus are particularly popular here due to their high ground clearance, safety record, six year warranty and fuel economy — a perfect mix of city driving practicality and countryside roads ability, even though the lonely roads around Juneau are all paved.

Juneau street scene

SUVs do dominate in town and outsell the pickups that account for only 25 percent of traffic. We will see this trend reverse as we go further south and the towns get much smaller. The Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V are perennial favourites, but Subarus hold their own against the newest entries. Mendenhall Auto Centre cites a lady customer who test drove both the Honda HR-V and Subaru XV Crosstrek, choosing to purchase the latter as a more able four-wheel drive vehicle.

Typically, Subaru owners in Juneau trade in their current two- to five-year-old car for a new one at the dealership. All Subaru models are popular in Juneau, including the XV Crosstrek, Outback and even the Impreza hatchback (I spotted many in town whereas the Impreza is typically rare in the U.S. landscape). The proof is in the pudding: Mendenhall Auto Centre in Juneau had – one – new Impreza left on their lot when I visited. All others had been snapped up already.

Ram Juneau

Logically, Leo also cited the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel as a favourite in town, and that’s in line with the State sales charts placing the Ram Pickup in the overall pole position. The other main dealer in town is Jeep, and there is indeed a definite skew towards more Jeeps in Juneau than in the previous (and next) towns I visited in Alaska. Other notable successes here include the Honda Element and Dodge Durango. Of course, the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado fill the streets as usual, and non-Subaru passenger cars are dominated by the Toyota Corolla and Yaris.

Saturn SL Juneau

A special mention to GM’s defunct brand Saturn, showing a solid heritage in Juneau with a few SL models spotted in town.

Leaving Juneau by ferry (and not cruise-ship or plane) is the trickiest, as the town’s ferry terminal is out of reach Juneau’s sadistic bus network stops at the airport and doesn’t go all the way to the ferry terminal in Auke Bay, past the Mendenhall Glacier. Even in Juneau, like elsewhere in the U.S., you’re supposed to have a car. I can’t wait to climb onto my Ram 2500 in Seattle then!

Next we hit Petersburg, further south but still in Alaska.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia. He runs a website dedicated to car sales statistics, trends and analysis called BestSellingCarsBlog. The website features sales data for 190 countries worldwide including 80 countries updated monthly.

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37 Comments on “U.S. North to South 2015: Juneau, Alaska...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice series, but stop making me want to go to Alaska with all of that beautiful scenery.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Looks like a beautiful town.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Calgary similar?

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          Nope. Calgary has alot of elevation differences but no mountains, and quite a few flat spots. Calgary is a good 45 minutes east of the Rockies. So its definitely a different look.

          Canmore Alberta is right on the edge of Banff National Park, and is legit in the mountains. They have a big Nordic Center and is a destination for skiers hikers and mountain bikers.

          Definitely BC has a lot more “mountain towns” than Alberta.

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        It sure is. They’ve been talking about moving the capital elsewhere since about 1948. Consequently, there has been very little development. Lots of 1940s style art-deco buildings, steep hills and fog. You expect Sam Spade to step out of the shadows in a trenchcoat at any minute.

        The airport is in a class by itself. Its on an island by itself. Rotary engined float planes take off in the channel between the island and the city.

        Just an unforgettable place.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Juneau is America’s only state capital that cannot be reached by car — only boat or plane”

    Well, you’ll need a boat or plane to get to Honolulu. Although once you’re on the island you can drive to the capital.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Hawaii is not a part of America, which everyone knows refers to North, Central, or South America.
      :p

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I assumed he was using the shorthand for “United States of America”.

        However, I think you’re correct. I know Matt is Australian and I’ve heard before from those outside the US that they don’t enjoy our habit of using the name of the continent as reference to the nation.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        I was told that Hawaii was part of Kenya. It was on Fox news so it has to be true.

        Anyway, my wife and I went to Juneau 10 years ago because some friends were stationed there with the Coast guard. It was a really neat place to visit but I don’t think I could handle living there with the constant dampness. I didn’t really pay much attention to the cars at the time but I’m glad Matt did for our amusement.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Hawaii also boasts 3 interstate highways, none of which cross a state – or county – line.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey ajla,
      As you mentioned you can drive to Honolulu once you are on the Oahu island.
      You only need a boat or a plane if you’re coming from one of Hawai’i’s other islands or from mainland USA.
      The only place you can drive to in Juneau is another suburb of Juneau. Quite an interesting experience.

      • 0 avatar
        carsRneat

        The City and County of Honolulu (the name of the single political jurisdiction – there is no separate City versus County of Honolulu) is the entire island of Oahu – so technically it is not possible to drive to Honolulu once on Oahu. Honolulu is like Juneau (a state capital that you cannot drive to. Having been spent time in both it seemed to me they share these car attributes – both tend to the smaller for passenger cars, they have a lot of tourists, and gasoline was expensive.

  • avatar
    LALoser

    Twice I have lived and worked in AK. The last time I shipped my highly winterized truck to Honolulu. The looks I got with the HD bumper/guard with the block heather plug hanging out.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Were driving the Verano with its beautiful Nokian Hakka R2s to Vegas in January. That will surely look a bit funny rolling around the dessert. But from Calgary to… the bottom of Montana, I am guessing, we will likely need them.

      • 0 avatar
        iMatt

        Reminds me of the time I drove my Accord wagon covered in salt top to bottom from Montreal to South Carolina in February. I had those chunky squared off “Canadian Tire special” winter tires installed. The thing looked ridiculous, especially cruising around Charleston.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          Goodyear Nordics?

          Great in deep snow, hilariously squirmy in the warm and dry.

          I’m hoping the Nokian’s low rolling resistance design will help them not get too badly worked over on our little vacation.

          • 0 avatar
            iMatt

            They were Motomasters and were, like you said, awesome in deep snow. Everywhere else was meh.

            Haven’t tried Nokians yet but my favourite thus far are Michelin’s X-ice. Even worn out, they worked far better than the new but useless Jinyus I’ve used the last two seasons. (Came with the car.)

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            Agreed. Michelin X-Ice are great winter tires

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      There seems to be a curious kinship between long time residents of Hawaii and Alaska. I would see numerous AK plates in the islands when I lived there, and about a dozen friends and acquaintances from the islands either retired to AK or moved there for extended periods of time. The sparsest population and the remotest population seem to get along well.

  • avatar
    iMatt

    I’ve always wondered about the longevity of Subaru’s in that sort of environment, especially with regards to their boxer engines. Extremely cold temperatures mixed with lots of short trips work to deteriorate engine oil rather quickly, diluting it with fuel without the chance to ever burn it off.

    If I recall correctly, contaminated oil was a big factor leading to many premature head gasket failures in their previous boxer engines as those gaskets were always half submerged in the engine oil.

    I suppose if you just follow the recommended precaution of changing the engine oil more often, it wouldn’t be a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Umm, no the head gaskets don’t fail because they are half submerged in oil. The failure is in the coolant passages either to the outside or the combustion chamber depending on the exact engine. Plus the gaskets are not submerged in oil.

      The old Subaru EA series engines were very reliable in AK which is one of the reasons they developed the following that they currently have. Of course the 4wd and then AWD was certainly a huge factor.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Nice story Matt.
    I’ve never been to Alaska, but intend to go someday. We looked into it in 2012. When we told the travel agent that we wanted to see the Northern lights, she talked us out of Alaska in the summer due to too much daylight and cloudy skies. Instead, we went to Iceland in October which is only a five-hour flight from NYC. I highly recommend visiting that island. The northern lights are easily visible once you get out of the light pollution from Reykjavik. Then it’s almost a black sky.

    Perhaps you can do an article about Iceland. They have an amazing car diversity there. It seemed like every Euro make as well as US cars are there.

  • avatar
    ktm

    Felix, I would love to go to Iceland in the winter. I used to live in Alaska (Juneau and Anchorage) and saw the Northern lights regularly in Anchorage. I live in Juneau a long while back, before they had ANY chain establishment. All of the stores and restaurants were local owned – there was no McDonald’s as well. Stories of people flying back from Seattle with loads of McDonald’s orders were common.

    I had a younger colleague who traveled to Iceland in November a couple years ago. They were unencumbered with children (no longer the case) and his wife was registered on a travel website that would offer screaming off-peak travel deals with no notice. He raved about Iceland.

    The challenge I have is convincing my wife to travel to a county named Iceland in winter……

  • avatar
    dig

    OK.

    I am going to chime in here as a current resident of the fine town of Juneau. Mr. Gasnier leaves a couple of things out and it is not the Subaru thing where he is right on the money. People do have trucks here if for no other reason than to launch ones’ boat as a boat is the proper form of transportation here. A great thing about trucks is I have 2014 Tundra that I have purchased from the aforementioned Mendenhall auto dealer some 1.5 years ago and it has like all of 10k miles on it. It is the DD. We have 300 miles of road after all. Took it on the ferry over to Chichigof Is. a couple of times as well. I think they have about the same road mileage but no pavement.

    I come from Montana. That is like no miles/km on a rig in that amount of time. Little bit of maintenance and the Tundra should get me to retirement (back in Montana).

    There is also quite the little fleet of garage queen muscle cars here in various vintages. Co-worker has a mint 1968 Pontiac GTO that is quite the hit on a sunny summer day. Another has around 2012 Mustang Shelby GT.

  • avatar

    dig, know how to get service on a Mazda in Juneau? I’m thinking about getting one of their tiny SUV’s. I’ve heard elsewhere that the Ford dealership has worked with Mazda owners. I’m a 57 year resident of Alaska–the vast majority of those years being in Juneau.. My old Toyota Corolla has been rusting in the rain for decades..but I love it here.

    Felix H.– I think I’ve seen Northern Lights here starting in September, but since Juneau is often cloudy, we miss many events in the night sky. Fairbanks is a great place to see the Northern Lights, and they are often more brilliant there. My earliest memory (from 2 yrs. old) is looking out the back door at the Northern Lights. Even with global warming, it can get a tad cold there though…

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