IHS Markit’s Marc Bland: “Cars still have a real place. The brands that are offering the most choice, I think, are going to win in the long run because of this freedom of choice.”
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The industry’s list of top-selling vehicles tells a story of dominant pickups and surging crossovers, but it doesn’t fully convey the preferences of minority consumers who still are turning to cars at a high clip.
IHS Markit registration data through April show that sedans and other cars still hold sway among African-American, Asian and Hispanic consumers.
For Hispanics, who’ve been typecast as loyal pickup buyers, the top three nameplates are cars. The highest-ranking pickup for Hispanics, the Chevrolet Silverado, comes in fifth. The Ford F series is sixth.
The data make clear that while some automakers have trimmed their car lineups, sedans are far from obsolete. Brands just need to aim them at the right audiences with the proper messaging, which will be critical as the consumer base continues to diversify, says Marc Bland, IHS Markit’s vice president of diversity and inclusion.
“Cars still have a real place,” Bland told Automotive News. “The brands that are offering the most choice, I think, are going to win in the long run because of this freedom of choice.”
Nissan has increased multicultural ad support for cars and crossovers, targeting ethnic marketing efforts for sedans where it sees the most demand.
Jeremy Tucker, Nissan North America’s vice president of marketing communications and media, said the brand has maintained a “consistent and constant presence” with advertising for the Altima and Sentra in key areas such as Los Angeles, where ethnic and minority consumers account for 52 percent of sales.
Los Angeles represents about 30 percent of Nissan’s Hispanic sales, while making up 24 percent of the brand’s Hispanic Sentra and Altima sales. For African-Americans, Tucker said sedan marketing is critical in places such as Atlanta and Chicago.
The Sentra, according to IHS, ranks ninth in the U.S. among Hispanic shoppers. For African-Americans, the Sentra is No. 5, with the Altima No. 12. The Altima was the top vehicle among blacks in 2016 before losing that title to the Camry in 2017.
Nissan’s Jeremy Tucker says involvement in the multicultural community is vital.
Nissan coordinates multicultural outreach with its local sales teams and dealers to ensure it is engaging with ethnic buyers. On a corporate level, Tucker said Nissan has formed teams within the company in areas including product development, marketing, financing and human resources that report on their commitment to investing in multicultural consumers. Tucker said these reports hammer home the point that minority buyers, who make up about 40 percent of Nissan’s sales, are at the forefront of Nissan’s growth strategy.
Diversity in the ranks
While their overall sales are sinking, sedans are still popular in certain minority markets. Here are the top-selling nameplates based on U.S. new-vehicle registrations through April.
1. Ford F series
2. Chevrolet Silverado
3. Ram 1500
4. Toyota RAV4
5. Honda Civic
1. Toyota RAV4
2. Honda CR-V
3. Honda Civic
4. Toyota Camry
5. Chevrolet Equinox
1. Toyota RAV4
2. Honda CR-V
3. Toyota Camry
4. Honda Civic
5. Honda Accord
1. Honda Civic
2. Toyota Camry
3. Toyota Corolla
4. Toyota RAV4
5. Chevrolet Silverado
1. Toyota Camry
2. Ford F series
3. Honda Accord
4. Honda Civic
5. Nissan Sentra
Source: IHS Markit
Nissan has been a BET Awards sponsor for the past four years. During the show’s 2018 festivities, the brand touted the Altima and Maxima along with the Kicks crossover. Experiential marketing for Hispanic and African-American consumers, Tucker says, can resonate more powerfully than digital advertising.
“It’s not just about talking at the multicultural consumers. It’s about being involved in the multicultural community,” Tucker told Automotive News.
Honda, the only brand with two car nameplates in the industry’s top 10 vehicles, isn’t letting up on its car marketing. As other manufacturers back away, Honda is charging forward with the Accord and Civic.
Honda said the multicultural audience continues to provide “a large growth opportunity,” and that over the past five years, the brand has increased advertising spending with ethnic buyers across its lineup.
Music is an important part of that effort. The brand continues to reach these consumers with its Civic Tour concert series that has entertained around 5 million attendees since it began in 2001. The brand’s other music initiative, Honda Stage, provides a digital hub for artist performances. This year, the brand said there was a focus on expanding the multicultural reach of Honda Stage with artists such as Miguel, Bad Bunny and Becky G.
“Despite the continued market trend toward light trucks, sedans are the origin of Honda’s auto sales and remain part of our unique strength,” Susie Rossick, assistant vice president of Honda marketing at American Honda, said in an emailed statement.
No language barrier
While targeted ad campaigns can generate aspiration among minority consumers and drive them to dealerships, Bland said the efforts will be for naught unless stores provide a welcoming environment when consumers visit.
Longo Toyota, the enormous South-ern California dealership spread across more than 50 acres, has predicated its business model on doing just that. The dealership’s staff speaks nearly 50 languages, including Chinese, Korean and Spanish. Sales managers include people of Chinese, Korean, Mexican and Vietnamese descent.
Longo Toyota has developed a Spanish-language store website for Hispanic consumers, which took about three months to create. A Chinese site is likely next, and a Korean site could follow, said Brendan Harrington, president of Longo Toyota.
“When you’re sitting at the sales desk, you hear three or four different languages at any given moment,” Harrington said.
He said that despite the shift toward crossovers, ethnic buyers are still interested in cars. His store pushes the Camry, a force across all groups, as well as the Corolla to Hispanic and Asian consumers in particular.
“We are seeing a ton of strength in the car sector,” Harrington said. “I loved hearing that Ford is pulling out.”
Longo Toyota has found success by targeting consumers through ethnic newspapers around Los Angeles that are geared toward Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian audiences.
Changing of the guard?
Although cars continue to resonate among black consumers, the F series is making a charge for the lead spot among them. According to IHS registration data, the F series ranked No. 2 through April among black buyers and is creeping up on the No. 1 Camry in an intriguing race to the top.
IHS’ Bland said this is a testament to the styling improvements Ford has made on its trucks over the years, along with the utility factor.
“There’s a lot of opportunity with the black consumer and full-size pickups,” Bland said. “I think it’s the new frontier and newfound opportunity for the auto industry.”