Sector survey: Pinning down the numbers

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Realizing the importance of reaching multicultural buyers, who will account for 32% of the U.S. population in 2010, automakers are hunting for hints and trends in the data.

American Suzuki Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America have the highest percentage of multicultural buyers based on their brands' total sales. In a survey, consultancy Strategic Vision reports Suzuki tallied 28% and Mitsubishi 25% in new vehicle sales from multicultural buyers from October 2001 through March 2002.

The two are smaller industry players in the general market. Suzuki said it sold a total of 54,937 vehicles this year through October. Mitsubishi reported selling 284,742. Both carmakers' general market agencies adapt their work for ethnic markets: Dentsu's Colby & Partners, Santa Monica, for Suzuki; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, for Mitsubishi.

Strategic Vision surveyed 82,725 buyers of new 2002 vehicles for the report. Although non-Caucasians were underrepresented at only 14% of respondents, the survey gives an idea of the relative popularity of different car models among different ethnic groups (see chart, below).

One of the most distinctive trends is Asian-American car buyers' affinity for upscale cars. They account for 15% of BMW sales and 9% of Mercedes-Benz sales. Another survey, by the Market Segment Group, found that 20% of Asian-Americans planned to spend more than $30,000 on their next car, compared to 18% for African-Americans and 10% for Caucasians. And while nearly half of all Americans planned to spend less than $20,000 on their next car, just 29% of Asian-Americans said they would spend less than $20,000.

In the Hispanic market, both Ford and General Motors Corp. are among the top 10 advertisers, according to Hispanic Business magazine's annual ranking. Ford, second only to Procter & Gamble Co., spent $51 million in 2001, and General Motors ranked eighth, at $29.5 million. Hyundai Motor America spent $14 million, followed by DaimlerChrysler at $10 million and American Honda Motor Co. at $9 million.

putting in the time

Honda uses data from researcher R.L. Polk & Co., which says the cars selling best to Hispanics are the brand's Accord and Civic, in that order, according to Barbara Ponce, manager, national advertising, emerging markets at the automaker. She attributes Honda's success to 13 years of advertising to Hispanics, as well as to African-Americans. Honda works with La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, Los Angeles, for the Hispanic market. Muse Cordero Chen, Los Angeles, handles the brand's African-American and Asian accounts.

But, Ms. Ponce said, it's a challenge for carmakers to determine what their market share is with African- and Asian-Americans. That's due to the difficulty of tracking vehicle sales by Asian- and African-American surnames. Polk, for example, collects its data from new car registrations but doesn't count Park and Lee, two of the most common Korean surnames, as Asian because they are also common names among non-Asians.

Don Coleman, chairman of GlobalHue, Southfield, Mich., in which Interpublic holds a 49% stake, cited another problem. "Sometimes the sample sizes are too small to draw strategic conclusions." His agency has just done 10 multicultural spots for Chrysler Group after almost losing the business in a controversial review earlier this year.

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