The perception is that anything with seating for eight and the towing capacity to pull four jet skis or a boat is the most popular thing on four wheels in Utah County. And to a large degree, that perception is correct, according to Utah County auto dealerships.
However, affordably priced, fuel-efficient cars, minivans, luxury cars and sedan imports also have very faithful followings.
“I can tell you that the No. 1 vehicle in Utah County is going to be anything you can strap eight people into — Suburbans, minivans. We used to simply throw all the kids in the back of our pickup trucks, but they kept falling out,” jokes Howard Brandt, new vehicle manager at Christensen Chevrolet-Buick in Orem. “So they came up with the idea of Chrysler Voyagers, Chevrolet Ventures, Ford Windstars. Now everybody has to have some kind of minivan. Then when our kids get bigger, we all need Suburbans and other four-wheel-drive vehicles if we’re going to take the whole family.”
Nothing confirms the fact that Utah County is family-oriented more than Honda minivan sales in Orem.
“The Honda Odyssey is the No. 1 minivan in the country,” says Bill Council, general sales manager at Ken Garff Honda in Orem. “And as popular as the Odyssey is around the country, it’s even more popular here because we are so family-oriented.”
Of all the Honda dealerships in the United States, the Orem Ken Garff dealership has the longest waiting list for Odysseys, Council says. He attributes the vehicle’s popularity to an outstanding safety record and a comfortable interior.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Mid-sized sedans, traditionally among the best selling vehicles on the market, are also popular in Utah Valley.
“We have the benefit of selling the Toyota Camry (America’s best-selling passenger car),” says Brent Brown, owner Brent Brown Toyota in Orem. “The Camry seems to be a good fit for Utah County. In general, people are a little more concerned with getting a good value here. They want to know they’re getting a great car, for a good price. That’s where Camry comes in. Our customers read Consumer Reports. They know the Camry scores high.”
While Utahns read national publications, they don’t always follow the nation when it comes to new car sales.
“We have some unique circumstances here with families. So you’re going to see more minivans, Suburbans, Prisms, Cavaliers,” says Brandt. “We also have a lot of people who commute to Salt Lake for work, and since carpooling has never really been popular here, we have a lot of small, fuel-efficient vehicles, commuter cars, out on our roads.”
But by and large, seating capacity outweighs fuel efficiency.
“About 80 percent of the new vehicles we sell are SUVs — Tahoes, Suburbans, Blazers. They’re all very popular with families,” says Ron Harvey, dealer at Gene Harvey Chevrolet in American Fork. “The SUVs are just good all-purpose vehicles. They’re great for vacations and hauling lots of bodies.”
Harvey says the same people who used to buy stationwagons, now buy SUVs. “It’s a good all-around vehicle,” he says.
Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College also affect the reflection of car buyers locally.
“Then, of course, we have two colleges in the valley, and also all these big families. What that boils down to is we have a lot of 16 to 25-year-old drivers out there. Those young people want a car that gets good gas mileage, front wheel drive, is economical to operate, under $5,000, and also is red and has a sunroof — if at all possible,” says Brandt.
Trucks and the image they portray are also important to drivers, old and young.
“We have some luxuries here in Utah County. We sell some of the most popular trucks (Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Tundra),” says Brown. “Young people perceive them as being the ‘cool trucks’ and also older people believe our trucks offer them versatility. The Tundra is a full-sized pickup truck that puts us into a market that we previously haven’t had representation.”
DIFFERENT KIND OF BUYER
While it is true Utah County has its share of minivans and SUVs, there are additional kinds of buyers out there.
“Our dealership caters to a different clientele compared to other dealerships. A lot of our customers are tired of fuel-thirsty, hard-to-drive, hard-to-park SUVs,” says Bryan Samuels, new car manager at Ken Garff Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche Carplex in Orem. “We find that the Audi brand does very well here because it’s all-wheel-drive and has the power and luxury of a Mercedes without the ‘look at me’ status some people are uncomfortable with.”
Samuels says consumers interested in Volkswagen and Audi makes are not typical. “I think the people who are buying our cars are a little different, demographically speaking. They’re active, confident, well-educated and usually come to the dealership knowing almost as much about our cars as the sales person,” says Samuels.
DID YOU KNOW:
Auto dealers’ average gross profit per new vehicle ranges from about $4,700 for Jaguars to around $1,140 for Hyundais.
Motor Trend Magazine