Cars ‘R’ Us

Car Crazy


Overall, car buyers in Gainesville prefer Japanese brands — Toyota, Nissan and Honda all place among the top five in new car registrations here, with the Ford F-Series pickup also showing up. Just like in most of the Sun Belt.

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 4:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 4:48 p.m.

A town’s image is hardly wrapped in fenders and floorboards, of course. But take a look around at the next parking lot you hit or the cars in front of you and behind you. It’s the second priciest purchase we tend to make during our lives – after the vaunted house – and it’s a bit telling what each of us drives.

In Gainesville, the top choice may be a little predictable, but it’s always there for you. And if it were human it would never forget birthdays or anniversaries.

If you drive a Toyota Camry, your ride is the best-selling vehicle in town, the same top-seller as in the rest of the United States, the car that needs little save for oil changes — and you don’t really buy into that every 3,000 miles stuff, do you?

Compare Gainesville to other college towns around the U.S.: The top seller in Athens, Ga., and Madison, Wis., is the Ford F-Series pickup. In Boulder, Colo., it’s the Subaru Outback. The highest the Camry ranks among those three towns is number five, in Madison. In Boulder, it doesn’t even rank in the top ten.

The favorite color of a Gainesville car? Silver last year beat out black for the first time in recent years, just as in the rest of the U.S., again making Gainesville into Normalsville (although, yes, James Bond drove a silver 1963 Aston Martin DB5 at one point). While black is known in the industry as the “car lover’s color,” silver has been the top color for new car buyers nationwide for the past 12 years on average.

Overall, car buyers in Gainesville prefer Japanese brands – Toyota, Nissan and Honda all place among the top five in new car registrations here, with the Ford F-Series pickup also showing up. Just like in most of the Sun Belt.

“A beige Camry and a Toyota Sienna minivan.” That sums up the road experience for Mary Sortino, who works at Kanapaha Middle School. She is the perfect symbol of the prevailing Gainesville car culture of the automobile as a utilitarian animal: Her Camry is a 1998 vintage with 148,000 miles on it.

“Good gas mileage, low repairs, that’s it,” Sortino recites with the tone of someone disinclined to change her motoring ways.

Research shows there are more used cars than new in the population, as well, attributed in part to the large student population, or at least those who don’t have daddy’s Beemer at their disposal. The top-selling used car in Gainesville last year? The Ford F-Series pickup, with the Camry at number three.

Gainesville also embraces hybrids like no other city in Florida, at a clip of 4.6 percent of vehicle registrations, whipping the runner up, Fort Myers/Naples, which comes in at 3.9 percent. Gainesville trumps the national average of 3.4 percent.

“Green thinking ranks at the top of social issues, and in a college town like Gainesville, you get young alumni and students who are more familiar with hybrids,” says Kristin Thurston, a Florida area manager for Edmunds.com, a Web-based consumer group.

At the same time, an electric car scene hasn’t developed yet, even though Nissan sells the Leaf and has an electric charging station at the dealership. The University of Florida has a charging spot outside the Welcome Center, as well, giving the town two spots to get some juice for your car of the future. But a promised station at area Walgreens, which is part of a national program to install auto outlets, has not yet materialized.

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