Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A red and a silver 2019 Toyota Camry are passing each other on a road near a lake and mountains. The Camry is one of the top vehicles purchased at dealerships in Los Angeles.

California v. Detroit (or “Proof that the West Coast Prefers Imports”)

As with most every part of the country, dealerships in Los Angeles are diverse, accommodating every kind of consumer. And while there’s really nothing special about the L.A. automotive marketplace in that regard; what’s interesting are the rankings, showing which makes and models prove most popular in the City of Angels.

Setting aside any preconceived notions about the automotive preferences of the rich and famous, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that it’s only a small percentage of L.A.’s 4 million-plus population that count themselves among the entertainment elite. And understanding California’s symbiotic relationship with ecological reform, it’s really no surprise that they also boast one of the highest concentrations of hybrid, EV, and Fuel Cell vehicles in the country. But here’s another fun fact: L.A. has boasted more cars than people for well over a decade. So even if a modest percentage of L.A. auto sales consist of specialty offerings, the vast majority are still likely to be indicative of the average consumer’s preferences (albeit with a west coast bias). Right? With that in mind, let’s dig a little bit deeper and find out which cars and truck Californians are choosing. Here’s a look at the most popular vehicles in California.

1st-5th Place

In the top handful of spots, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between California’s rankings and that depicted by national automotive sales. For example, the Toyota Camry ranks as the most popular vehicle in the U.S. followed by the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. And here’s what the CA rankings look like:

  • Toyota Camry (starting at $23,945 MSRP) available with both traditional and hybrid powertrains, the former delivers an impressive 41 mpg highway (29 city) with the latter (starting at $28,250 MSRP) serving up 53 mpg highway (51 city).
  • Honda Civic (starting at $19,450 MSRP) at 36 mpg highway (25 city) the Civic is an enduring favorite for the more traditional of green-minded buyers.
  • Toyota Prius (starting at $23,770 MSRP) here we find what could be considered the O.G. of hybrid offerings. Offering 54 mpg highway (50 city) the Prius is still competitive in the ever-expanding areas of hybrid offerings. But with its longevity and proven track record comes an enduring enthusiasm that transcends model year offerings. There is also the option of the compact Prius C (starting at $21,530 MSRP) which drops the economy numbers by a few points (but not enough to make a real difference).
  • Toyota Corolla (starting at $19,990 MSRP) like the Camry, the Corolla is available in traditional and hybrid builds. The former offers 38 mpg highway (31 city) while the latter (starting at $28,250 MSRP) delivers 53 mpg highway (51 city).
  • Honda Accord (starting at $23,720 MSRP) is a Honda offering that comes in both traditional and green flavors, with the traditional offering 38 mpg highway (30 city) and the hybrid bumping those numbers up to a matching 48 mpg.

So, right off the bat, this tells us that accessibly-priced imports with competitive fuel economies prevail in the California marketplace. Hybrid variants are likely to be considered a ‘plus’ (no real surprise from the green energy state). Granted, it’s not the most “Buy American” of mindsets, but no real surprises. Besides, it’s hard to argue the value proposition offered by both Toyota and Honda, which seem to have a stranglehold on California’s Top Five List.

6th-10th Place

Here’s where we begin to see more of a split. The national rankings continue with the Hyundai Sonata, followed by the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu. But in California, the only commonality is the Sonata. The near absence of trucks until the last third of the list speaks volumes. That said, here are the next wave of CA rankings…

  • Nissan Altima (starting at $23,900 MSRP)
  • Nissan Sentra (starting at $17,790 MSRP)
  • Hyundai Sonata (starting at $19,750 MSRP)
  • Hyundai Elantra (starting at $14,950 MSRP
  • Nissan Versa (starting at $12,360 MSRP)

Just as Toyota and Honda had done beforehand, Nissan and Hyundai have exclusive control over the second half of the 10 most popular vehicles in California, reinforcing the economical import trend.


A white 2019 Hyundai Sonata is parked in a sunny driveway.

11th-20th Place

Rounding out the top two-thirds of our rankings reveals an even further disparity between The Golden State and the rest of the country. Across the rest of the country, you’ll see the Chevy Impala, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Sentra, Chevy Cruze, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, and Toyota Prius. This reveals more of the economical import offerings that rank higher on California’s list. While still highlighting the relative absence of Chevy offerings to-date in the CA list, which follows:

  • Toyota RAV4
  • Honda CR-V
  • Ford Focus
  • Volkswagen Jetta
  • Ford Fusion
  • Kia Optima
  • Toyota Scion
  • Mercedes Benz C
  • BMW 328
  • Mazda 3

Okay, admittedly, we get a little more diversity here in the CA list. But we also begin to see the tapering off of active Toyota rankings. At this point, the research has provided fairly strong indicators that CA-based car buyers are less enamored with domestic offerings, creating a far less diverse portrait of consumers than is seen in the national rankings. We also begin to see the hint of luxury offerings from Mercedes Benz and BMW, for offerings that rank far lower in the national numbers.

21st-30th Place

In the last third of the national list, we find the Nissan Rogue, Nissan Versa, Kia Optima, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Kia Soul, Volkswagen Jetta, RAM 1500, KIA Forte, and (somewhat surprisingly) the Chrysler Town and Country. As one might suspect, we continue to see the deprioritization of imports (when compared to the CA listings) and the inclusion of more offerings that don’t even seem to make a dent in the west coast numbers…

  • Chevrolet Silverado
  • Chevrolet Malibu
  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Ford Escape
  • Chevrolet Cruze
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Ford Mustang
  • Lexus RX
  • Chrysler 200
  • Kia Soul

So, there you have it. More diversity. More domesticity. But no real surprises. Now you might have noticed that we stopped exploring the offerings in-depth a little higher up the list, but that was really meant to identify the features that proved important to CA-buyers.

So What Does This Tell Us?

So, there it is, a breakdown of the most popular offerings in California.

We have to get through the top-ranking dozen vehicles before we even see an appearance by the domestic mainstays knowns as ‘The Big 3’. This differs from the national rankings where Chevy and Ford manage to wrangle control over half the top ten rankings. And while they also manage to gather half of the top thirty ranking nationwide, they don’t even manage to grab a third of those rankings in California.

In California, it would appear that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai reign supreme—with their most economical offerings ranking atop the list of purchased vehicles.

In other words, California isn’t quite as accurate a representation of the larger whole than one might have thought. And we can’t really claim to be surprised by that. But it certainly manages to shine a spotlight on the strengths of certain import brands as they gain a more notable foothold in the domestic car buying market.