The Hero in Town: the Kia Soul
* Now updated with official sales data and dealer interviews *
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We have arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, also called NOLA or, more affectionately, Big Easy. A very different experience than all other American cities I crossed so far, especially given the fact I was there on a Friday night… Bourbon Street with all its performers, singers, live music, good vibes, cheap (so cheap!) alcohol and delicious food is an experience I had not thought possible in the US and one I don’t think I will see again in this trip. Of course, NOLA has its own very particular vehicle landscape, slightly different as is often the case for big cities compared to the rest of the State they are located in. The Top 5 ranking and full landscape description is below.
Dodge Challenger in New Orleans LA
Best-selling cars in Louisiana – source: JATO.com
Ford F150 in New Orleans LA
Looking at the best-selling models in Louisiana we are faced with a barrage of pickup trucks. After monopolising the Top 2 in Mississippi they do two more here and trust the Top 4 rankings. The Ford F-150 leads the way with 16.614 sales, ahead of the Chevy Silverado at 13.359. Up until now, nothing special I hear you say. The Ram Pickup (my very own Albert) rounds up the podium with just above 9.500 units and that’s new news, even though it managed to reach that ranking nationally a couple of times, but the most impressive jump is definitely the GMC Sierra in 4th place here with 7.741 sales vs. Nb. 20 nationally. The only passenger car to find its way into the Top 5 is, logically, the Toyota Camry.
Now onto NOLA.
Below the ubiquitous Ford F-150, the main striking element in NOLA is the impressive performance of premium German brands. Based on the areas I visited (Downtown, French Quarter, Lower Garden District, Treme-Lafitte and Whitney), I’ll go as far as saying that they hold an even higher market share in NOLA than they do in New York City. Local favourites include the new generation Mercedes ML Class, Mercedes GLK and BMW 3 Series, absolutely at every street corner especially in the French Quarter, but many other models make a remarkable reappearance here like the Mini or Smart Fortwo. In fact I had not seen that many tiny cars in a very long time.
Albert getting a little posh in New Orleans LA
In contrast with Louisiana as a whole, the most popular passenger car in New Orleans is the Nissan Altima, in line with my observations in Tennessee and Mississippi. The Honda Accord is not far behind though, judging by the high frequency of new generations in town. Also strong: the Toyota Tacoma at its highest so far in the trip (possibly just below the Altima and Accord), Honda Civic, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Explorer, Hyundai Accent and Toyota RAV4. Less popular than their national rankings: the Toyota Corolla and Ford Fusion.
Almost all taxis in New Orleans are either Dodge Grand Caravan or Nissan Quest, and there is one model that has frankly surged in popularity compared to all other areas I have visited so far: the new generation Kia Soul and I will make it my Hero in Town for New Orleans. Strangely this popularity seems to have been triggered by the new generation as I hardly saw any first gen Soul in town. Brand-wise, Nissan is particularly successful here with the Versa, Sentra, Pathfinder and Maxima all over-performing on their national ranking.
Nissan Juke and Versa in New Orleans LA
Arguably the eccentric capital of the United States, New Orleans had to display a few oddities, and it did: the only two Nissan Murano convertible I saw in the entire trip were parked a few blocks away from each other in the French Quarter, and it looks like the Honda CR-Z may have once cracked the Top 20 in town given how many I spotted in such a small area.
Nissan Cube in New Orleans LA
Having said all of the above, the New Orleans sales charts should actually be relatively conservative, at least at the top: Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram Pickup, conforming to the State podium. This changes when we leave New Orleans towards Texas: the Silverado becomes extremely frequent with a constant flow of 2013 models on the highway. It should even pass the Ford F150 to lead sales charts in this part of the state, while the Toyota Tundra experiences a sudden surge of popularity the closer we get to the Texan border.
Toyota Tundra in New Orleans LA
Chris Solomon, Manager at AllStar Toyota Baton Rouge LA, confirms this observation: “The new generation Tundra is our second best-seller below the Camry but above the Corolla. Doing particularly well for us is the 1794 Edition with specific 20-inch wheels (named for the ranch, founded in 1794, upon which the truck’s assembly plant is located in San Antonio, Texas). It has attracted buyers in the 25-40 years old range, especially trading in a Ford F-Series pick-up. We are still below Chevrolet in pickup sales as they have a more affordable offer, but it’s a true possibility that we beat Ford in the Baton Rouge area.”
Building on my Charleston observation, overall one in 3 new F-Series is a F250/350, this ratio shooting up to 50% after Lafayette. Other striking observations in this part of Louisiana include a new gen Hyundai Santa Fe much more popular than both the old generation and all other States before now.
1987 Ford F150 in New Orleans LA
Shane Smith, General Sales Manager at Allstar Hyundai Baton Rouge agrees the Santa Fe is a conquest model for the brand: “Our best-sellers are the Sonata, Elantra then Santa Fe, and we can count on high loyalty from our customers who come back to the brand time after time. As far as the Santa Fe is concerned though, on top of repeat business we are also seeing trade ins typically from the Toyota Highlander, GMC Terrain and Toyota Camry. The Santa Fe has the best warranty #1 rated safety its category and that has helped us a lot in our sales. It’s the perfect upgrade from a sedan for families that need a bit more room.
1982 Chevrolet S10
Shane Smith also commented on the exceptional pent-up demand in the market at the moment. “We are dealing with the oldest fleet of cars overall out there in a long time, and our sales are at their best since before the financial crisis. People have waited a long time to renew their cars and now is the time. For example we also handle Volvo and just yesterday we had someone trade in a Toyota Prius with 250,000 miles. It’s not that unusual at the moment to see that type of trade-in.”
The Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL was seen in very high numbers again, understandable as this a much more touristy State than Mississippi and Tennessee I crossed beforehand, and 90% of Suburbans and co. that I have been spotting are rentals, with the French apparently being the most avid admirers.
Finally, a note on petrol prices. I later read in the press that this was a big deal but at the time I didn’t know it would stop there: for the first time since I left New York, the price of regular petrol has now plunged below $3, to $2.95 exactly in Lafayette. Not that it affects my budget as Albert drinks diesel and its price has not plunged in concert with regular petrol, staying at $3.66 cash and $3,71 credit in that very same 76 service station. Still no credit/cash price difference for petrol.
Full Photo Report below.