Many automakers used to view Hispanic-oriented marketing as a way to drum up extra sales when their marketing budgets allowed. Often their efforts amounted to little more than dubbing Spanish over actors speaking English in TV commercials.
Today, they know not to overlook or underestimate what has become America's fastest growing minority group, a demographic now responsible for most of the nation's population growth and one that is expected to become the largest ethnic group in California next year.
U.S. auto sales to Hispanic consumers increased 27 percent last year, double the industry sales pace, according to registration data collected by R.L. Polk & Co. With industry growth slowing, Hispanics represent one of the biggest opportunities to gain share.
"If any [automaker] is not focusing on or putting their good-faith efforts toward Hispanic marketing, then I would have to question whether they're truly in the marketing business," Fred Diaz, head of Chrysler Group's Ram truck brand, told Automotive News.
Simply giving Hispanics lip service is not enough. To tap into this market, automakers have realized they need to create large-scale campaigns showing a deep understanding of Hispanic cultural nuances, while dealers sponsor local soccer organizations, seek bilingual employees and offer sales documents in Spanish.
Some dealers have tapped into a new program being expanded nationally this year called AutoAmigo, which promises a "hassle-free" vehicle-buying experience for Hispanics who might otherwise be hesitant because of language barriers or negative experiences.
Hispanics in the United States now number some 52 million, more than the population of Canada. Although 16.5 percent of U.S. inhabitants, Hispanics last year accounted for about 11 percent of new U.S. personal vehicle registrations, or about 1.2 million units. Polk projects their share to be almost 13 percent by 2016.
"If manufacturers are looking to invest in growth, they don't need to look any further than the Hispanic market," said Marc Bland, head of diversity and inclusion at Polk.