Ford has long declared the F-150 the best-selling vehicle in the nation. Though the official sales numbers agree, we thought we’d put that claim to the test ourselves and measure the Ford F-150’s success by gauging consumer interest on CarGurus. Well, it turns out Ford’s right. The F-150 accounts for an extremely high percentage of the leads generated on CarGurus relative to every other vehicle. It’s the top dog in almost every region in the country and was not far behind in the couple of areas where it wasn’t. As such, we declare it the undisputed champ of consumer interest across the country. Its popularity transcends climate demands, geographic challenges, and cultural differences. Turns out contractors need to work across the country, and so Ford’s popularity cannot be touched.
So with that in mind, we decided to check out the number-two spots. What else is generating consumer interest, and does that change drastically as we look at different regions of the U.S.? Or is the rest of the list of best-selling vehicles also similar across different regions? We decided that one of the more common-sense ways to divide the country up was to do it by time zone. But because there can be drastic differences in climate, culture, and infrastructure within time zones, we thought we’d get a little more granular with our regional divisions and split them along Interstate 50, effectively turning them into “northern” and “southern” halves. And as you’ll see, Hawaii and Alaska warranted separate consideration.
We here at CarGurus like to save the big surprises for the end, and it’s no surprise that Jeep Wrangler found its way onto this list. After the F-150, the Wrangler is decidedly the most popular car in the Northern Eastern Time Zone, generating 2.09% of all leads sent in the region, despite accounting for just .04% of CarGurus’ total inventory there. New England and its neighboring states have always had a certain appeal for folks attached to changing seasons—we get all four up here—and no car handles seasonal transitions like the Jeep Wrangler. With 4-wheel drive and its optional hardtop, the Wrangler will take you as far north (and as far off road) as you’d ever want to go, but when the temperature begins to rise and the sun shines longer each day, a top-down Wrangler becomes the perfect beach car.
Moving down the east coast, the Honda Accord takes the silver medal (again, behind the indomitable F-150). In the Southern Eastern Time Zone, it appears Honda’s reputation has helped carry its popularity beyond the competition’s. While shoppers in northern climes need to prioritize features like all-wheel drive and ride height, the south enjoys the luxury of focusing on fuel economy, value, and longevity. The Honda Accord, whether equipped with a 4- or 6-cylinder engine, delivers these qualities in droves, but when trying to guess the midsize Honda’s secret to success, we’re inclined to point to its surprising sportiness. After all, the comparable Toyota Camry (not exactly known for sporting potential) ended up in only 7th place for the region.
The Northern Central Time Zone covers the breadbasket of America. This is the agricultural center, where a huge portion of corn, soybeans, potatoes, buckwheat, and other produce is grown. With all that product, the farming population in Midwest states can reach as high as one-third of total state population. So it makes sense that in this particular part of the country another work truck follows right behind the F-150 for consumer interest. The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is by far the second-most-popular vehicle in this region. Unfortunately for Chevrolet, the Silverado has consistently been the second best-selling vehicle across the nation, and despite the automaker’s best efforts, it just can’t seem to dethrone the American pickup king.
When we moved to the Southern Central Time Zone, we stumbled over a bit of a surprise. Looking at consumer interest in the states in the southern portion of the Central Time Zone, we found that the Ford Mustang beat out the Silverado 1500 for second place. Agriculturally, the Northern and Southern parts of this region aren’t very different. You still have a lot of agricultural production and a high farming population, as well as the highest population density of cattle in the nation. These are not quite the demographics you’d suspect would generate such substantial interest in Mustangs. To further that point, this region also has by far the most F-150 leads in the nation, and that third-place Silverado 1500 has generated the fourth-most total leads out of any vehicle across all regions. But for whatever reason, that part of the country just loves the Ford Mustang. And who can blame them? Ford’s Mustang is the definitive muscle car, and with 50+ years of production history still generating interest, there’s no wonder it ranks so high.
To give credit where credit is due, the product managers at Ram sure do know where their bread is buttered. The Northern Mountain Time Zone is home to the bighorn sheep, so it’s fitting that Ram would offer its 2500 pickup truck—the second-most popular truck in the region, behind the F-150—in a Big Horn trim. Today’s heavy-duty Ram is a good deal more polished than the utilitarian work trucks of 30 years ago, but with an optional 6.7-liter inline 6-cylinder diesel engine and a maximum towing capacity of over 17,000 pounds, the Ram 2500 is now more of a workhorse than ever. The northern Rockies conjure images of forbidding peaks and rough winters—as far as we’re concerned, the Ram 2500 fits in quite well.
In the Southern Mountain Time Zone the midsize Toyota Tacoma‘s popularity trails the F-150’s. Despite having better handling, safety, and driver-assistance features than ever, the size and fuel demands of a full-size pickup are too much for many shoppers. GM’s recent reincarnation of the midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon suggests U.S. automakers realize this, but Toyota’s Tacoma, which started as a compact, has been successful as a midsize pickup since the larger second generation arrived in 2005, when it also took Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award, and particularly since Ford stopped making its Ranger in 2011. That second-generation Tacoma’s larger bed and interior were well received, and its Toyota reliability and durability also helped win sales. The Tacoma also falls second to the F-150 in Hawaii, where the truck’s new TRD Pro trims and their beefed-up suspension might be perfect for Maui’s beautiful but challenging driving destination, the Hana Highway.
Speaking of far-flung, relatively young states, the F-150 is trailed by a truck with a name that suits the climate in Alaska: the Toyota Tundra. The Tundra isn’t particularly comfortable or fuel efficient, but with V8 power, a sturdy traditional truck suspension, off-road capability, and beefy towing capacity, it apparently has lots to offer those who choose to live in the U.S. state with the longest, most challenging winters. But apparently not all Alaskans need a tough truck. The third most popular vehicle in Alaska? The Chevrolet Corvette. The Corvette also has a V8, but the similarities pretty much end there. Being able to get to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds will provoke big grins in any weather, but we’re not sure we’d get full value out of a convertible in a place where temps can get to -65° F—before wind chill.
As it turns out, the entirety of the Pacific Time Zone is enamored with the BMW 3 Series. While it outpaces almost everything but the aforementioned sales king in the Pacific Northwest, the 3 Series generates by far the most interest in California and Nevada. We suppose that makes sense, as a German luxury sedan may better meet the needs of Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas residents than it would in other parts of the nation. In fact, those states are the only states that don’t have a work truck in the top spot, or even in the top 5 for consumer interest. The 3 Series has a longtime reputation for being one of the best sport luxury cars and has more often than not lived up to the title.
How much does your home state’s climate impact your car-shopping decisions?
-John Harrington, Steve Halloran, and Matt Smith