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BMW Is Most Popular Luxury Vehicle, but Tesla Is Catching Up

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Although there’s an ever-growing variety of luxury vehicles available to consumers, new data reveals that BMW is the most popular make that consumers consider. However, Tesla’s not far behind. The electric giant claimed the No. 1 spot in several key metros and states, and — notably — one Tesla in particular ranked highest as the most popular luxury car model.

LendingTree researchers analyzed auto loan inquiries made on our platform between July 2020 and June 2022 to learn more about the percentage of users inquiring about luxury vehicles. In addition to looking at which metros and states have the highest rate of residents asking about luxury cars, we’ll also go over which luxury car makes and models users inquire about the most.

Key findings

  • Overall, 20.2% of auto loan queries on LendingTree are for luxury cars. By metro, San Jose, Calif., residents are most interested in luxury vehicles, with nearly 4 in 10 (39.5%) of its auto loan inquiries for luxury makes. Neighboring San Francisco has the second highest percentage of loan queries for luxury vehicles (39.4%), followed by Los Angeles (38.4%).
  • At the state level, the District of Columbia ranks highest for luxury auto loan queries. Of the auto loan queries made in the District of Columbia, 35.5% are for luxury makes. That’s followed by California (32.4%) and New Jersey (29.6%).
  • BMWs are the most popular car make that consumers consider, but Teslas are more popular in the top-ranking metros and states. Of all luxury auto loan queries, 17.5% are for BMWs. While Teslas make up 14.4% overall, they’re more popular in the top three metros and top two states where luxury auto loan inquiries are most common.
  • When it comes to the most popular models, Tesla takes the lead. Overall, 6.6% of luxury vehicle queries are for the Tesla Model 3, while 4.7% are for the Tesla Model Y. Comparatively, 4.3% are for the BMW 3 Series, ranking it third.

1 in 5 auto loan inquiries are for luxury cars

Despite the unstable economy, consumers are still interested in making luxury purchases — particularly when it comes to their next vehicles. Of all auto loan queries on the LendingTree platform between July 2020 and June 2022, 20.2% were for luxury cars. A closer look reveals that residents in California metros are the most interested in financing high-end cars.

Specifically, San Jose, Calif., ranks highest. Nearly 4 in 10 (39.5%) of the auto loan inquiries in the metro are for luxury cars. Following that, San Francisco ranks second (39.4%), with Los Angeles (38.4%) third.

Metros with the highest percentage of auto loan inquiries for luxury cars

RankMetroPercentage of queries for luxury cars
1San Jose, CA39.5%
2San Francisco, CA39.4%
3Los Angeles, CA38.4%
4Miami, FL35.1%
5Bridgeport, CT34.7%
6New York, NY34.0%
7Oxnard, CA32.4%
8Washington, DC30.7%
9San Diego, CA30.3%
10Seattle, WA29.1%

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

Jenn Jones, LendingTree autos expert, says she isn’t surprised that metros in California rank the highest.

“​​California itself has the largest car market in the U.S.,” she says. “In 2020, the Golden State had over 30 million new vehicle registrations. The national median was only 4 million.”

The two top-ranking metros also have some of the highest median income levels in the U.S. While high-earners are more likely to be able to afford luxury cars, lifestyle creep — or increasing spending while earning more money — could also be a contributing factor here.

Generally, residents in the largest U.S. metros are more interested in financing a luxury car than those in smaller metros, with Bridgeport, Conn., being an exception. Luxury cars represent 34.7% of all auto loan inquiries in the metro, sitting in fifth place in our rankings. That’s despite the Bridgeport metro being home to just over 944,300 residents — a population far smaller than the metros ranking before it, including Los Angeles (13.2 million residents) and Miami (6.1 million).

Metros with the lowest percentage of auto loan inquiries for luxury cars

RankMetroPercentage of queries for luxury cars
1Wichita, KS12.9%
2Des Moines, IA13.3%
3Chattanooga, TN13.6%
4Omaha, NE13.8%
5Ogden, UT13.9%
6Tulsa, OK14.1%
7Little Rock, AR14.3%
8Knoxville, TN14.5%
9Boise, ID15.0%
9Akron, OH15.0%

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

Overall, the five metros with the highest percentage of auto loan inquiries for luxury cars have an average population of 5.4 million, while the five with the lowest percentage average almost 700,900. Wichita, Kan., ranks lowest overall, with just 12.9% of auto loan inquiries there for luxury cars. That’s followed by Des Moines, Iowa, and Chattanooga, Tenn.

By state, the District of Columbia ranks highest for luxury auto loan inquiries

While the percentage of inquiries for luxury cars is highest in California metros, the state itself ranks only second overall. The District of Columbia has a higher percentage of inquiries for luxury cars, comprising 35.5% of all auto loan inquiries.

The District of Columbia is included in both our metro (designated as Washington, D.C.) and state rankings, but the results are different. That’s because the metro rankings include inquiries made in the outlying areas, while the state rankings are confined to district borders.

Similar to the top two metros, each of the five top-ranking states has a higher median income than the national average. The District of Columbia in particular has the highest median income at $90,842. It’s no surprise that the states with the top ranking U.S. metros are on the list (notably, California, New York, Florida, Connecticut and the District of Columbia itself). Still, it’s worth noting that many of the highest-ranking states are also home to the largest U.S. metros.

States with the highest percentage of auto loan inquiries for luxury cars

RankStatePercentage of queries for luxury cars
1District of Columbia35.5%
2California32.4%
3New Jersey29.6%
4Connecticut27.0%
5New York26.4%
6Maryland25.8%
7Nevada25.6%
8Florida24.7%
9Massachusetts24.1%
10Rhode Island23.9%

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

Meanwhile, states with lower median incomes generally ranked lowest. At the bottom of the list, Wyoming and Montana had the lowest percentage of luxury auto loan inquiries, at 7.8% each. While Wyoming and North Dakota were only two of the bottom five states with a median annual income above the U.S. median, they’re also among the least populated U.S. states, which may also play a role in their rankings.

States with the lowest percentage of auto loan inquiries for luxury cars

RankStatePercentage of queries for luxury cars
1Wyoming7.8%
1Montana7.8%
3North Dakota7.9%
4West Virginia8.4%
5South Dakota8.5%
6Iowa9.5%
7Alaska9.6%
8Arkansas10.1%
9Nebraska10.2%
10Maine11.1%

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

BMW is leading make for luxury auto loan inquiries, but Tesla pulls ahead in top metros and states

Of all luxury auto loan inquiries, the largest percentage is for BMWs (17.5%). Just behind BMW, Tesla (14.4%) is the second most common luxury car brand consumers identify in their auto loan inquiries. Take a look at the full rankings:

Most popular luxury car brands

RankMakePercentage of queries for luxury cars
1BMW17.5%
2Tesla14.4%
3Mercedes-Benz11.9%
4Audi10.6%
5Lexus8.0%
6Cadillac7.6%
7Acura5.7%
8Infiniti5.3%
9Land Rover4.3%
9Porsche4.0%

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

In the metros and states that rank highest for luxury auto loan inquiries, however, Tesla was more popular. Beyond the District of Columbia, Tesla was more popular in California, both in the state and many of its metros, including the top three ranking metros. It’s also more popular in Nevada, Utah and Hawaii, as well as two metros in Texas.

Tesla was founded in Silicon Valley, which may be one explanation for its popularity in the top metros. Beyond the top three metros being in California, the places where Teslas were more popular were generally those with the most California transplants. Texas, for instance, is the state with the most California transplants, and it’s also where the company is headquartered. Nevada, Hawaii and Utah are all among the top 20 states with the most Californian transplants.

Still, BMW is the most common luxury make in 79 of the 98 metros analyzed and 41 states. Following that, Mercedes-Benz claimed the most popular spot in six metros and one state, and Cadillac and Audi claimed two metros and two states each. Of the bottom-ranking luxury car makes, Lexus claimed one metro.

Tesla models are more popular overall

However, Tesla takes the national lead when it comes to the most popular models. Of all luxury vehicle inquiries, 6.6% are for the Tesla Model 3, and 4.7% are for the Tesla Model Y. Meanwhile, the BMW 3 Series sits in third at 4.3%.

RankMakeModelPercentage of all luxury car inquiries
1TeslaModel 36.6%
2TeslaModel Y4.7%
3BMW3 Series4.3%
4Mercedes-BenzC-Class2.3%
5BMW5 Series2.2%
6TeslaModel S1.9%
7Mercedes-BenzE-Class1.7%
8BMWX51.7%
9CadillacEscalade1.6%
10AcuraMDX1.6%

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

Depreciation rates may be a factor in the popularity of Tesla models. Used cars make up a large portion of overall auto loan inquiries, and generally, the most popular luxury models are among those that depreciate the fastest. But according to Jones, that isn’t true of most Tesla models.

“Teslas have some of the lowest depreciation rates on the market because of its popularity and brand recognition,” Jones says. “Its entry-level Model 3 has shockingly high value retention.”

The cost is lowest for a BMW 3 Series. A 3-year-old BMW 3 Series costs around $23,000, while a Tesla Model 3 costs nearly $42,000. However, many states include tax incentives for purchasing electric cars, which may entice more consumers to Tesla models.

Most popular models by the top luxury car brands

RankBMWTeslaMercedes-BenzAudiLexus
13 SeriesModel 3C-ClassQ5RX
25 SeriesModel YE-ClassA4ES
3X5Model SGLEQ7IS

Source: Analysis of auto loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.

Financing a luxury vehicle: Top expert tips

When it comes to purchasing a luxury vehicle, Jones offers consumers the following advice:

  • Go into a dealership with a loan preapproval in hand. “Dealers will offer customers the loan option that best suits their own pocketbook rather than one that provides the lowest rate to the buyer,” she says. “When you get a loan offer directly from a lender, you can avoid middleman inflation and have a much stronger negotiating position.”
  • Even if you have the cash to buy a car, paying interest may work in your favor. “In a rising rate environment, it’s vital to shop around for a loan,” Jones says. “And if you have the cash to purchase a vehicle outright, compare your auto loan rates to the investment returns you could get.” Using an auto loan calculator can give you a good idea of what rates you can afford and help you plan a budget around your car payments.
  • Spend time comparing cars. Determine how much you can afford to put toward a vehicle using a car affordability calculator, then compare luxury makes and models in your price range. “Ideally, a vehicle needs to serve your needs for several years in the future, as well as right now,” Jones says. “I recommend looking at reliability ratings for brands and models, and narrowing your choice down.”

Methodology

LendingTree researchers examined completed loan inquiries on the LendingTree platform between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022, to determine the percentage of luxury vehicle inquiries. Auto loan inquiries that didn’t include vehicle makes were excluded, as were luxury makes with small sample sizes.

Researchers then aggregated the results for 98 of the 100 largest metros, as well as the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Because some of the MSAs were created or changed in the intervening years — or weren’t included as separate metros in our system — two of the 100 largest metros were excluded: Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Dayton, Ohio.

 

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