If you’ve been following the auto industry, you probably already know that Toyota was the world’s biggest-selling carmaker in 2014, with 10.23 million vehicles delivered worldwide. On top of everyone else for the third consecutive year, the Japanese brand was followed by the Volkswagen Group, with 10.14 million units, and General Motors, with 9.92 million. But does this mean these three brands are the most popular in the world?

Not exactly, and I have just the right infographic to prove it.

In late 2014, search giant Google released its annual Trends report, which included the most-searched automakers. Believe it or not, in the U.S. Toyota came in fourth and Volkswagen didn’t even make the top 10. Ford was the most-searched brand, with Jeep and Dodge in second and third, respectively.

Though it may seem complicated, the reasons for this discrepancy are quite simple. Selling millions of cars doesn’t make an automaker popular. It just means that said manufacturer meets the needs of more customers than others. "Needs" include not just types of cars, but availability and affordability as well. This is why companies that sell more cars produce a lot of econoboxes and focus on emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific and South America.

In other words, most people searching for a Subaru WRX don’t actually buy one. A WRX won’t satisfy a family man’s needs in terms of roominess and cargo space, but a larger sedan or an SUV will. The more affordable the better, and we’re back to why Toyota and Volkswagen came to cross swords for the world’s biggest selling carmaker.

Continue reading for the full story.

Methodology

The World's Most Searched Car Brands: Infographic Brochure - Marketing
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Before I proceed to the actual results, a few words on how this infographic was created.

The study features Google searches of car brands performed using the Latin alphabet. The data was gathered over 12 months, between April 2014 and March 2015 (note that Google’s own Trend’s list spanned between January - December 2014).

Data for each country included the highest search volume per month and the car brands matching that search volume. Countries with an average monthly search volume of less than 100 were not included. For the U.S., we’ve also included data for each of the 51 states.

Finally, there’s the map, in which each state or country features the logo of the most searched car brand in that area. Countries or U.S. states where there was a tie between multiple brands are represented accordingly, with a light-gray background color.

North America

The World's Most Searched Car Brands: Infographic Brochure - Marketing
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Although North America is a market where customers have access to a wide variety of American-built cars, both U.S. and Canadian Internet users seem to have a thing for Toyota. What this proves, especially when compared with Google’s own results from earlier this year, is that search trends change quite often. In just a few months, Toyota climbed above Dodge, Jeep, and Ford to become the U.S.’ most searched car brand, to go with its current status as America’s best-selling automobile brand.

But while both U.S. and Canadian users have searched for Toyota over the last year, Mexicans have been more interested in Nissan and Chevrolet, a big hit south of the border, where General Motors operated no fewer than five plants. But Neither Chevrolet nor Nissan have made it to the Top 5 most Googled brands in the U.S.(General Motors was listed as a whole in fifth).

United States

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Okay, time to have a closer look at U.S.-based searches to find out which brands are popular by state. While the overall findings point at Toyota as the clear winner, the fact of the matter is the Japanese company was the most searched brand in only 24 states.

While the overall findings point at Toyota as the clear winner, the fact of the matter is the Japanese company was the most searched brand in only 24 states.

A quick peek at the infographic also reveals that Toyota was more popular with Internet users from the southern U.S., and both the East and the West coasts. In the North and Central U.S., Ford seems to be the more popular brand with Google users, while the "line" separating the large areas dominated by Ford and Toyota includes states favoring two brands. In this case, it’s either both Ford and Toyota or just one of them in the company of either Subaru, Nissan or Hyundai.

There are many reasons for Ford’s dominance in the North, but the most likely factor here is that people in the North and Central areas need more trucks for farming, logging, etc., as well as SUVs in order to cope with the snowy winters. Toyota may be the best-selling brand in the U.S., but when it comes to pickup trucks, the Ford F-150 is king. Likewise, Ford attracted a lot of attention in 2014 with the launch of both the sixth-generation 2015 Ford Mustang and the new, aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150.

On the flip side, Toyota’s popularity on East and West Coasts may have something to do with the fact that there are more cities along the coasts, where people need sedans and compacts more than trucks and big SUVs. And when it comes to sedans, Toyota is the more popular brand, thus buyers tend to google its cars more often.

Products from Hyundai, Subaru and Nissan have been the most searched for in eight states, sharing top spot with either Ford or Toyota. Interestingly enough, Tesla was the most searched car brand in the District of Columbia, alongside Toyota. At least Tesla has a dealership in DC.

Central America

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Unlike North American users, people in Central America searched for a wide variety of car brands. However, Toyota continues to dominate as the most searched company in four out of 14 countries. In Costa Rica and Saint Lucia, Toyota shared top spot with Hyundai, Suzuki and Mitsubishi. Interestingly enough, Jamaicans searched for both Toyota and BMW, while Mercedes-Benz took top honors in Panama. In Belize, a market mostly dominated by Japanese products, enthusiasts seem to have an affinity for Jaguar. In fact, Belize is the only country in the world where Jaguar was the most searched car brand. That’s solid proof that most searched doesn’t mean most sold.

South America

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South America is where we see an even wider variety of brands, and Toyota losing top spot as the continent’s most searched carmaker. Chevrolet seems to be the dominant power here, with six of 13 countries searching for its products (two shared with Volkswagen and Hyundai, respectively).

Chevrolet seems to be the dominant power here, with six of 13 countries searching for its products.

Chevy’s popularity in South America isn’t exactly surprising, as no fewer than four countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela), operate General Motors factories. Likewise, Fiat’s popularity with Brazilian Google users can be related to the fact that the Italian company operates two assembly plants in that country.

It may also have something to do with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles opening a new factory there to produce the 2015 Jeep Renegade.

The job market may have a lot to do with it, in fact, because several brands that operate in Brazil, including Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, have cut employees throughout 2014.

Toyota was the most searched brand in four markets, sharing Trinidad & Tobago with Nissan. Hyundai was most popular in Peru and Paraguay, and shared Chile with Chevrolet.

Europe

The World's Most Searched Car Brands: Infographic Brochure - Marketing
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If you still had doubts that Americans and Europeans have different tastes in cars, our European infographic should settle it once and for all. There aren’t many surprises here. German automakers dominate the continent, being the most searched brands in 27 of the 46 countries included in the research.

German automakers dominate the continent, being the most searched brands in 27 of the 46 countries included in the research.

BMW is the sole most-searched brand in 10 countries, while Mercedes and Audi are the most popular in four and two states, respectively. Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen share top honors between them or with other European makes in all but seven markets.

Although most of the time the best-selling brand isn’t the most searched for, Tesla Motors does both in Norway. Likewise, Volvo is the most searched manufacturer in Sweden. Other countries where the most searched brands aren’t all German makes are Turkey (Ford, BMW & Renault), Denmark (Peugeot), the Czech Republic (Hyundai), Belarus (Hyundai), and Iceland (Toyota).

Exotic brands are present among the most popular searches in Albania and Malta only, where Ferrari shares the highest ranking with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.

Much like South America, Europe sees the same trend where certain brands are the most searched for in countries that operate their assembly facilities. Examples include Sweden (Volvo), Slovakia (Volkswagen), Turkey (Renault & Ford), and Romania (Dacia).

Asia

The World's Most Searched Car Brands: Infographic Brochure - Marketing
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Not surprisingly, Asia is mostly a Japanese affair, with Honda and Toyota leading the charts. Toyota, also the best-selling automaker here, was the most searched brand in 11 countries, nearly half of them from the Middle East. A bit surprising is the fact that Toyota was, alongside Mercedes-Benz, the most searched brand in the United Arab Emirates too, a country known for its thirst for luxury vehicles and supercars. I guess people there have common sense as well as a ton of money.

While electric cars are becoming increasingly popular with wealthy Chinese drivers, gas-guzzling supercars are equally admired in other countries.

Honda, on the other hand, was the most searched carmaker in seven countries, all in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia, where the automaker runs four facilities. Korean company Hyundai leads the charts in four countries, including Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Apparently Hyundai is popular in both Russia and former Asian members of the Soviet Union.

German marques are also popular among Asian Internet users, which comes as no surprise given both BMW and Mercedes-Benz expanded toward the continent’s emerging markets in recent years. Surprisingly enough, Audi is nowhere to be found at the top of these charts, despite running production facilities in both India and China, and with about a third of its annual production going to the Asia-Pacific area.

Speaking of China, Tesla was the most searched brand here. It may seem shocking, given Model S sales are far from spectacular compared to other nameplates from Asian and European manufacturers, but the reason Tesla is so popular with Chinese Internet users can be linked to the fact that the California-based maker opened shop in the country a little more than a year ago. The brand was greeted with great enthusiasm by the Chinese, and it continues to be a hot discussion topic as Tesla is rushing to expand its network of charging stations, and add luxury features that suit local tastes.

But while electric cars are becoming increasingly popular with wealthy Chinese drivers, gas-guzzling supercars are equally admired in other countries. Lamborghini, for instance, was the most searched brand in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Maldives. Lamborghini’s raging bull is much more popular than Ferrari. No wonder Lamborghini runs a full Super Trofeo racing schedule in Asia.

Australia, New Zealand and Oceania

The World's Most Searched Car Brands: Infographic Brochure - Marketing
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Oceania is yet another continent where Japanese cars are significantly more popular than European brands. Once a country that featured Holden as its national brand and most popular carmaker, Australia is now a prosperous market for Toyota. In 2014, Toyota sold two times as many vehicles as Holden in Australia, making it the indisputable sales leader Down Under.

Once a country that featured Holden as its national brand and most popular carmaker, Australia is now a prosperous market for Toyota.

Holden, on the other hand, sold just a few more than Mazda did. Ford came in fifth. With Toyota having sold as much as Holden and Mazda put together, it’s not surprising it is also the most searched car brand in the country.

Also, the fact that both Holden and Ford are set to shut down all Australian production by 2017 may have made numerous buyers consider a Toyota as a future purchase rather than a traditional brand.

Results from New Zealand were less predictable, with Mitsubishi hailing as the most searched brand. Note that this happened in a country where the Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car and the Ford Ranger is the best-selling truck, followed by the Toyota Hilux. I don’t know what the heck to make of that.

Besides Australia, Toyota was also the most searched brand in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. BMW took top spots in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, sharing the latter with Ford and Peugeot.

Africa

The World's Most Searched Car Brands: Infographic Brochure - Marketing
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The fact that Toyota is the world’s best-selling automaker simply because it builds affordable and reliable cars is yet again evident in Africa, where the Japanese brand was the most searched in 26 of the 43 countries included in this research. The Internet users in the remaining countries have searched for either BMW, Mercedes-Benz or both, with only two exceptions. Hyundai turned out to be the more popular brand in Angola, while Bugatti shared top spot with Toyota in Ghana. Why is Bugatti so popular in Ghana you may ask? Well, it turns out at least three Ghanaians own a Bugatti Veyron, which pretty much turns them into celebrities. That’s probably where all the googling comes from.

Conclusion

Arguably the most important conclusion I can draw from this infographic is that most searched doesn’t necessarily mean most sold. If these attributes went hand in hand, then Belize would become the land of Jaguars and Tesla would sell millions of cars in China. Of course, that’s not to say sales and popularity aren’t related, as countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway validate that statement. Bottom line is, Internet popularity happens for various reasons.

Tesla became the most searched brand in China by opening dealerships and working with the government to expand its network of charging stations. Ford became as popular as Toyota in Google searches in the U.S. by launching the sixth-generation Mustang and the aluminum-bodied F-150 less than two months apart. Likewise, some brands became hot topics in certain countries where they opened factories and created thousands of new jobs. One thing’s for sure: it’s all about the hype, and unlike sales trends, it can all change in a matter of weeks.

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