The wealthiest Americans are cheapskates, at least as far as their tastes in automobiles goes. Perhaps that is why some rich Americans stay rich.
Continue Reading Below
24/7 Wall St. asked auto trends research firm Truecar to find the best-selling cars and light trucks that America’s rich drive. Truecar analyzed industry sales data from the 10 wealthiest U.S. ZIP codes by median income, according to the Internal Revenue Service, including neighborhoods in New York City, Greenwich, Conn., and the gated community of Fishers Island, Fla. Based on the 20 top-selling cars from Truecar’s report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the eight cheap cars the richest Americans drive.
Most rich Americans drive affordable cars. The average price of eight of the cars among the top 10 was less than $40,000. 24/7 Wall St. excluded the two most expensive cars because they are considered luxury models, but by the standard of high-end cars, they cost very little.
One model that made the top 10 is the Mercedes E-Class, which had an average price paid of $48,362. Since Mercedes has a number of models that sell for more than $100,000, the E-Class barely makes the middle of the car company’s model line based on price. The second luxury car among the top 10 is the BMW X5 SUV, which has an average price paid of $56,050. The X5 M, the high performance model, costs more than $102,000 fully loaded.
The tastes of the wealthy do not vary much from the average car owner. Five of the cars rich Americans buy are made by either Honda Motor Co. (NYSE: HMC) or Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM). These two brands have consistently done well among American buyers and have taken market share from U.S. manufacturers for years. They continue to offer high quality, relatively low prices and efficient engines that get good gas mileage. Toyota and Honda cars are at the top of quality surveys. Two of the cars on our list are the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The remaining three on the list are from German automakers.
Not a single American car made the list. Even a look beyond the top eight sellers to the top 20 shows that German and Japanese models dominate. The only two American models on the wider list are the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler. As further evidence of the frugality of the wealthy car owner, the Grand Cherokee has an average price of $26,158. The Wrangler’s is just $22,510.
For those who assume that Americans with median incomes well into the double digits mostly drive $80,000 cars, the fact is otherwise. If anything, the rich drive the same cars most people do.
These are the eight cheap cars the richest Americans drive.
8. Toyota Camry > Average price: $24,237 > Type: Midsized car > Total sold 2012: 243,816 (2)
The Camry was the second best-selling car or light truck in the United States through the first seven months of this year. The inexpensive, high-mileage car has been a staple of the Toyota line-up since 1982. The Camry is sold in both four-door and hatchback models. The Camry relies on a series of four-cylinder engines to keep gas mileage low. Toyota claims 6.8 million people currently drive Camrys in the U.S. The Camry is the fourth most popular car among the wealthy of Chicago.
7. Honda Accord > Average price: $23,168 > Type: Midsized car > Total sold 2012: 183,817 (3)
The Honda Accord is the third best-selling car in America so far this year. The Accord’s base model is a four-door sedan, and the vehicle is also offered as a two-door coupe. The Accord relies on a four-cylinder engine to achieve good gas mileage, but the high-end EX-L comes with a V6. The Accord was the first Japanese car built in the U.S. when production began in Marysville, Ohio, in 1982. This car is the third best-selling car among the wealthy of Manhattan.
6. Honda CR-V > Average price: $30,197 > Type: Midsized SUV > Total sold 2012: 167,236 (12)
The CR-V is Honda’s base SUV model. So far this year, it is the 12th best-selling car in America. The light truck is available in two-wheel and all-wheel drive. All CR-V models run on four-cylinder engines, which allow it to get an EPA estimated 31 MPG on the highway — an extraordinary number for an SUV. The Honda CR-V ranks as the second most popular car among wealthy residents of the Windy City and comes in fifth among the rich of Manhattan.
5. Volkswagen Jetta > Average price: $25,290 > Type: Small car > Total sold 2012: 96,832 (19)
The Jetta is at the heart of Volkswagen’s efforts to revive its sales in the U.S. Those sales faltered in the 1970s and early 1980s, and VW has only begun to regain market share recently. Despite a 34.1% improvement in sales in the first seven months of 2012, VW’s share of the American market is only 3.2%. The Jetta is the least expensive car or light truck that VW sells in the U.S. The base model sells for less than $17,000. The Jetta comes in 13 models, most of which get 34 MPG for highway driving because of the use of four-cylinder engines. Jettas with clean diesel engines are more expensive but have improved mileage numbers. This is the most popular car among Chicago’s wealthy, and the fifth most popular among the rich in Century City, a suburb of Los Angeles.
4. Toyota Prius > Average price: $29,762 > Type: Small car > Total sold 2012: 143,297 (15)
The Toyota Prius was the 15th best-selling car in America through the first seven months of the year. The car is the best-selling hybrid of all time. It was introduced in 1997. Since then, more than 4 million units have been sold. The Prius was also the third best-selling car in the world in the first quarter of 2012. The hybrid-electric vehicle comes in four versions. One is a plug-in, which gets about 95 MPG in highway driving when only the electric motor is being used. The base Prius is a four-door sedan. The Prius is the number one selling car among the wealthy of Century City and Ross, Calif., a suburb north of San Francisco. The only other California city to crack the list of wealthiest ZIP codes in America, Atherton, purchases Priuses only second to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
3. Lexus RX > Average price: $38,561 > Type: SUV > Total sold 2012: 45,1374 (No. 1 Lexus model)
The Lexus RX is the best-selling vehicle in the Lexus line, despite the fact that it is an SUV. It is also one of the least expensive models Lexus offers. The car company, a division of Toyota, sells two other SUVs — the $53,000 GX and $81,000 LX. The RX comes with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive and is powered by a six-cylinder engine. Lexus does have a high-end version of the RX called the F, which has an eight-speed transmission and sells for $47,000. The RX is the second most popular car in Greenwich, Conn., and the third most popular in Medina, Wash.
2. Mercedes C-Class > Average price: $34,064 > Type: Midsized car > Total sold 2012: 43,349 (No. 1 Mercedes model)
Once again, the wealthy go for the least expensive car a luxury brand has to offer. The C-Class is the best-selling Mercedes car. Of the 164,918 cars and light trucks Mercedes sold in the first seven months of 2012, 43,349 were C-Class. The C-Class has six versions. The least expensive is the 250 Sports Sedan. It has a small four-cylinder engine and four doors. The car also can be bought with all-wheel drive and a larger engine. The version built by Mercedes AMG racing division has a 451 HP engine and retails for $59,800. In Palm Beach, Fla., and Century City, Calif., this car ranks as the third most popular.
1. BMW 328 > Average price: $35,146 > Type: Small car > Total sold 2012: 54,415 (No. 1 BMW model)
The BMW 3 Series is the German car manufacturer’s best-selling car in the United States. Of the 147,801 vehicles BMW sold in the U.S. in the first seven months, 54,415 were 3 Series. With the exception of the 1 Series, which sells very few units, the 3 Series is BMW’s cheapest model. The base 328 comes with a four-cylinder 240 HP engine that gets 33 MPG for highway driving — unusually good for a car with such high horsepower. This base model comes with rear-wheel drive. Further up the 3 Series line are versions with all-wheel drive and larger engines.The top of the line is built by BMW’s “M” racing division. The M3 coupe has a 414 HP V8 engine and a base price of $60,100. That does not include the $1,300 gas guzzler tax. In New Vernon, N.J., this car is the second most popular, and it ranks fourth in Ross and Century City, Calif., and in Manhattan.