Trick question: It’s a truck.
Take a close look around any major parking lot in the area. Ford, GM and Daimler-Chrysler dominate. The Big Three made two-thirds of all the cars, trucks and SUVs now owned in Boone County.
The Ford F-Series pickup is the county’s most popular vehicle by far, according to a CBT analysis of county tax records. There are 4,658 basic Ford trucks out there, or at least registered to be on the road. Six of the top 10 models are Fords and Toyotas, models of the state’s largest dealership, Machens.
Overall, the ownership tide is slowly pulling out of America. County residents are driving more cars built by Japanese and Korean companies, and for a typical owner, the three reasons are cost, reliability and the higher cost of gasoline.
The second-most popular car is the Toyota Camry, with 3,180 on the tax rolls. No. 3 is the Honda Accord (2,525), while the Honda Civic and Corolla are at the end of the Top 10, behind the Ford Taurus and Ranger and the Chevy CK Series and Silverado pickups.
The most popular SUV? Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Van? Dodge Caravan
Luxury car? Cadillac DeVille
And what about muscle cars? Ford Mustang, hands down. (What happened to the Camaros?)
When Donna Amato of Columbia first arrived at the Head Motor Company, Columbia’s Kia dealership, six years ago, she needed a reliable car that could handle a daily commute to Fulton and frequent trips to see clients in Mexico, Mo.
“I was pretty skeptical at first about it being a Korean car,” said Amato, who had driven only American cars in the past.
But a test drive dissolved her doubts, as did the assurances of the Kia sales representative. “Bring it back if you don’t like it,” Amato remembers him saying.
She returned it, 198,000 miles later, as a trade-in for another Kia. Her praise for the Korean automaker also persuaded her husband to switch to Kia in 2005, when he replaced his Ford pick up truck with a Sportage SUV.
The Amatos are part of a growing number of Boone County residents switching to Asian automobiles, such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi. Indeed, Asian imports made up 28.9 percent of all vehicles owned in the county in 2006, a 4.7 percent increase from 2001, according to Boone County personal property tax records. Leading the pack were Korean manufacturers Kia and Hyundai, both owned by Hyundai, which ranked first and third in ownership growth in the county during that time.
More than 240,000 personal property tax records in Boone County from 2001 and 2006 show how residents’ vehicle preferences have changed in the past five years. Because the analysis focuses on personal ownership, stripped from the results are companies owning six or more vehicles, including firms that lease vehicles.
The big three auto manufacturers still dominate, their subsidiaries representing a full two-thirds of owned vehicles. But then consider those automakers’ growth in the past five years, and a difficulty in attracting new customers emerges. Overall, vehicle ownership grew in Boone County by 7.5 percent, but Ford GM and Daimler-Chrysler each increased by less than 2 percent. In a comparison of the top-16 parent auto companies, Ford ranked sixth in volume growth, followed by Daimler-Chrysler at ninth and General Motors at 16th. In fact, General Motors vehicles fell by 331; strong growth in Saab, Saturn and GMC makes couldn’t offset declines in Pontiac, Buick and now-defunct Oldsmobile.
The troubles experienced by Ford, General Motors and now Daimler-Chrysler, which have cut a combined 90,000 jobs in the past few years and closed a dozen plants— Daimler-Chrysler recently said it plans to close its plant in St. Louis—are reflected in the county’s profile. Car ownership is splintering here; more options are available, and people are taking them.
A maker’s sharp growth can be caused by the recent addition of a dealership. Take Saturn, which opened a dealership in Columbia in 2000, according to records from the county’s merchants’ licenses. Saturn vehicles have grown by 72 percent, more than any other American maker.
Hyundai and Kia already had established dealerships in Columbia by the late 1990s. Kia has grown its customer base by offering more models and retooling those models every few years. But nothing generated interest in the maker like Kia’s 10-year power train warranty that was implemented in July 2000.
“The warranty was a key,” said Stuart Head, co-owner of Head Motor Company.
“It said to the public, ‘We have a top-quality car, and we’re not afraid to back it with a 10-year warranty.’”
Preferences between cars and SUVs often rely on gas prices, said Head.
“When gas was selling up around $3 a gallon, you had people trading in big SUVs and trucks for small cars,” he said. “Now that it’s gone down, the SUVs are taking off.”
The chance to own a new car, rather than a used car, enticed Jessica Kruger of Columbia to buy her Kia Spectra two years ago.
“For the same amount of money, you might as well buy a new car and have the warranty in case anything goes wrong,” she said.
For Amato the purchasing decision comes down to three things: gas efficiency, cost and reliability.
“And I hate that,” Amato says of her switch. “I’d much rather buy an American car, but it seems like there’s more upkeep on them than foreign cars.”
Allen Thompson of Rocheport agrees. In 2001 he and his wife owned four American cars and a 1988 Honda Accord bought from a graduate student. In 2006 Thompson owned six Accords.
“I do most of my own maintenance,” Thompson said. “If I invest time in a car, I don’t want it to break down in some other way. My American cars didn’t hold up.”
Decades ago Thompson had owned a 1979 Honda Accord, a small shoebox hatchback, but its poor design drove him back to American cars. After all, they had larger interiors and better gas mileage, he said. When his 1996 Ford Contour reached 100,000 miles a few years ago, he replaced the transmission and electrical system. Less than 10,000 miles later, the head gasket went out.
“A friend said, ‘You should have left it on the side of the road at 100,000 miles.’ He was right. If I had bough a Honda then, I would have saved myself $2,000,” Thompson said.
Now each of his two kids in college drives an Accord. And the 1988 Honda? It has rolled up 215,000 miles, and Thompson continues to drive it.
Like Thompson, Amato said she has no plans to switch from her brand of choice.
“I have been very happy, and when this one’s time comes,” she said, looking down at the silver sedan, “I’ll get another one.”
1 Ford F Series Pickup 4,658
2 Toyota Camry 3,180
3 Honda Accord 2,525
4 Ford Taurus 2,277
5 Ford Ranger 2,095
6 Ford Explorer 1,957
7 Chevrolet C/k Series Pickup 1,941
8 Chevrolet Silverado 1,825
9 Honda Civic 1,578
10 Toyota Corolla 1,555
11 Dodge Ram Pickup 1,351
12 Dodge Grand Caravan 1,145
13 Chevrolet Cavalier 1,110
14 Chevrolet S-10 1,097
15 Ford Escort 1,058
16 Jeep Grand Cherokee 1,017
17 Ford Mustang 920
18 Ford Windstar 912
19 Buick Lesabre 896
20 Dodge Dakota Pickup 891
21 Chevrolet Blazer 865 22 Pontiac Grand Am 862
23 Mitsubishi Galant 796
24 Chevrolet Suburban 795
25 Chrysler Town & Country 739
26 Nissan Altima 735
27 Chevrolet Impala 712
28 Nissan Maxima 696
29 Ford Focus 680
30 Ford Escape 672
31 Chevrolet Lumina 650
32 Pontiac Grand Prix 630
33 Chevrolet Tahoe 629
34 Jeep Cherokee 608
35 Ford E Series Van 606
36 Buick Century 601
37 Chevrolet Malibu 599
38 Cadillac Deville 596
39 Honda Odyssey 566
40 Saturn Saturn 543
41 Dodge Caravan 538
42 Nissan Sentra 533
43 GMC Sierra 529
44 Mazda Mazda6 527
45 Toyota Tacoma 519
46 Toyota Pickup 513
47 Subaru Legacy 505
48 Mercury Grand Marquis 493
49 Toyota Avalon 481
50 Toyota 4runner 479