The growing importance of Hispanic-Americans burst into public awareness when the group played a key role during last year's presidential election. There may be no single event that highlights their significance in the U.S. automotive market that dramatically, but the sharpest marketers are well aware of Hispanics' growing clout.
Consider a few key numbers:
- There are 52 million Hispanics in the United States, representing 16.5 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanics are the nation's fastest-growing ethnic group.
- In 2012, new-car sales to Hispanic customers increased by 27 percent. That was the fastest growth rate for any ethnic group and double the overall industry's rate of increase, according to R.L. Polk & Co. data.
- Hispanics accounted for about 11 percent of new U.S. personal vehicle registrations last year, according to Polk, which expects that share to grow to almost 13 percent by 2016.
The message for marketers and dealers is clear: It would be shortsighted to ignore this expanding group. Hispanics likely will emerge as a battleground between Detroit 3 and Japanese automakers, with Japanese powerhouses Toyota, Honda and Nissan combined currently winning 42 percent of the Hispanic market.
For dealers, winning those buyers will require a comprehensive effort to make all the consumer touch points of their stores welcoming to Hispanics. It goes beyond a few bilingual signs or having a single Spanish speaker on staff. Dealership forms and sales materials should be available in Spanish, and staff should make shoppers and their families feel comfortable.
The reward is likely to be not only a sale but a loyal customer -- and positive word of mouth to a vital, growing group of car buyers.