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From Pickups to Performance, Hispanic Market Grows in Importance

From Pickups to Performance, Hispanic Market Grows in Importance

By Jeff Youngs, March 12, 2012
Hispanic Americans are clearly an important market that is becoming a greater focus for American auto brands. And matches between Hispanic media celebrities and their vehicles are well known to fans.

Sofia Vergara, a star of ABC's Modern Family sitcom, is often spotted in her white Range Rover . Luis Miguel, the Mexican singer, became infamous for an accident in his Bentley  a few years ago. Celebrity journalist Camilo Montoya, of the morning show Despierta America and El Gordo y La Flaca, gets behind the wheel of a black Mercedes-Benz C300 . Chiquiquira Delgado, host of Despierta America and Mira Quien Baila on Univision, drives an Infiniti FX35 .

An FX35 also is the favorite ride of UFC fighter Thiago "Pit Bull" Alves. Cristian de la Fuente, the Chilean-born actor who also appeared on ABC's Dancing with the Stars show in 2008, loves to drive his gray 2010 Ford Shelby GT Mustang SVT . Willie Colon, the "Nuyorican" salsa-music artist, drives a GMC Sierra  Denali.

Raul De Molina, host of El Gordo y La Flaca, Univision's popular news show, already owned about a half-dozen cars of various makes and models. But last year, he became enamored of the new Porsche Panamera  when he first saw the $70,000-plus sports car at the Miami Airport. "I went to pick him up in a Panamera and he loved it so much that he got his agent on his smartphone that minute and bought one," recalled Javier Mota, former automotive editor of Univsion and now auto editor of About.com in Spanish and host of Zero-to-60, a SiriusXM Radio show in Spanish about cars.

Mota and some others insist that there is very little difference between the preferences and priorities of Hispanic-American automotive consumers and their non-Hispanic counterparts. "Money is money," he said. But some disagree. Hispanic consumers account for about 7.5 percent of all U.S. industry sales and the number is rising, according to market-data firm R.L. Polk, while they make up about 16 percent of the entire U.S. population. And car-brand executives attribute Hispanic consumers with strong and sometimes passionate preferences in automobiles. Compared with the rest of the American public, they buy more pickup trucks, midsize cars, and small cars.

The Chevrolet Cruze , for instance, is especially popular with Hispanics, compared with other Americans, for instance, said Ayana Jordan, diversity advertising and sales-promotion manager for Chevrolet , and so is the midsize Chevrolet Malibu  sedan.
Meanwhile, Alvaro Cabal, Ford's multicultural communications manager, said that Hispanic consumers "tend to buy more" than others "at two ends of the equation. Traditionally, we [Hispanics] purchase lots of trucks: F-150  sales among Hispanics are through the roof," said Cabal, who is Hispanic. J.D. Power and Associates data shows that Hispanics account for about 1 percent of F-150 purchases in the U.S. market.

The Jeep Wrangler  is the second-highest-selling Chrysler Group model with Hispanic consumers, the company said, accounting for about 11.9 percent of purchases among the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram  brands. About 4 percent of all Wranglers purchased are made by Hispanics, J.D. Power data showed. The most popular Chrysler Group model with Hispanics is the Ram 1500 , the entry-level pickup truck, which accounts for 13.4 percent of Hispanics' purchases from the company, and 3 percent of all 1500s sold nationwide, according to Power.

But the most dynamic product segment for Hispanic consideration and purchase nowadays is small cars.

"We have seen a new pattern growing in small cars," Ford's Cabal said. "Fiesta  is doing very well in the Hispanic market. The new Focus  is doing very well there as well." And Cabal expects the new Ford Escape  crossover utility, once it goes on sale in the spring, "will do well in the Hispanic community. It has everything that Hispanics look for in a vehicle: a passion for design, an exterior that is bold and makes a statement. It's not vanilla."

And even Mota conceded that there is one powerful influence on an important cohort of Hispanics in the United States-recent immigrants-that differentiates them from the general population as it exerts itself in their preferences for particular small-car models or brands that they drove in their home countries before leaving for America.

"When your cars aren't in [the U.S. market] and then they're becoming available here, that will especially attract some people from our countries," Mota said. The Fiat 500 , for example, carries that sort of attraction "because so many people here remember driving those cars in Mexico, Argentina or Colombia."
Ford's Cabal agreed that many recent Hispanic immigrants to the United States are seeking out small-car models and noted that the upgrading of the typical small sedan now sold in America, to include higher-quality materials and more amenities as standard compared with the stripped-down "econoboxes" of old, plays to that interest.

"An immigrant might be looking [in the U.S.] for a car that was available in their country, or at least the same size," Cabal said. "In the past, American small cars typically didn't offer great design and the good materials that Hispanics were seeking. But the new designs of Focus and Fiesta, for instance, and the quality of their interiors, are really different."

As far as Hispanic consumers are concerned, automakers are focusing on at least one other area of differentiation: infotainment. As popular as features such as Ford's Sync system and competing connectivity platforms by other car brands have become with many segments of the American market, they may be even a bit more important to Hispanic buyers. It turns out that Hispanics use about 300 more cell-phone minutes, on average, than the general American population, Cabal said. "So these tech features are actually more important to Hispanic consumers," he said.

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