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Quartz/Bárbara Abbês

The Toyota Sienna is the most popular car for diplomats in the US

By Dan Kopf

Diplomatic cars are special. In the US, they get distinctive blue and red license plates, are exempted from taxes, and because of diplomatic immunity their drivers don’t have to pay parking tickets—though there are sometimes repercussions if they don’t.

They are also unusually likely to be Toyota Siennas.

Through a public records request made to the Department of State, Quartz obtained the list of vehicles and trailers registered between May 2014 and August 2018 by diplomats in the US. The list contained 8,860 vehicles, about a quarter of which were registered to diplomatic missions (such as embassies and consulates). The rest were registered to individual diplomats.

The four most common cars were Toyotas, with the brand’s minivan, the Toyota Sienna, making up over 6% of all the cars we identified. Seating at least seven, it’s a practical car for shuttling diplomatic staff to meetings. Honda’s minivan, the Odyssey, is the 7th most popular car. The Sienna’s popularity the diplomatic corps is unusual. The car wasn’t among the 25 most purchased cars in the US in either 2017 or 2018, according to automotive research company Kelley Blue Book.

Most common diplomatic cars registered in the US between May 2014 and August 2018

RankMake and ModelShare of vehicles
1Toyota Sienna6.2%
2Toyota Camry4.1%
3Toyota RAV43.5%
4Honda CR-V3.0%
5Toyota Corolla2.9%
6Honda Odyssey2.6%
7Toyota Highlander2.5%
8BMW X31.7%
9Honda Accord1.6%
10Honda Civic1.4%
11Ford Explorer1.4%
12BMW X51.3%
13Toyota Avalon1.2%
14Hyundai Santa Fe1.1%
15Honda Pilot1.1%
16Ford Escape1.0%
17Nissan Rogue0.9%
18Nissan Armada0.9%
19Mercedes Benz S-Class0.9%
20Volkswagen Jetta0.9%
21Mercedes Benz E-Class0.9%
22Nissan Pathfinder0.8%
23Jeep Grand Cherokee0.8%
24Lexus RX0.8%
25Mercedes Benz C-Class0.8%
26Volvo XC900.8%
27Nissan Altima0.7%
28Volkswagen Passat0.7%
29Dodge Caravan0.7%
30Hyundai Elantra0.7%
31Chevrolet Suburban0.6%
32Lexus ES0.6%
33Toyota Prius0.6%
34Volkswagen Tiguan0.6%
35Hyundai Sonata0.6%
36Nissan Quest0.6%
37Ford Mustang0.6%
38Jeep Cherokee0.6%
39Ford Fusion0.5%
40Hyundai Tucson0.5%
41Kia Sorento0.5%
42Nissan Sentra0.5%
43Kia Sedona0.5%
44Nissan Murano0.5%
45Mazda CX-90.5%
46BMW 328I0.5%
47Mazda Mazda30.5%
48Ford Focus0.5%
49Audi Q50.5%
50Ford Transit0.5%

When it comes to their personal vehicles, diplomats in the US preferences are similar to general population but deviates in a very specific way: few pickup trucks. While America’s best-selling vehicles are trucks like the Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado, the vehicles registered to diplomats (rather than a mission) show a preference towards smaller SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

Most common personal cars registered to diplomats in the US between May 2014 and August 2018

RankMake and modelShare of personal vehicles
1Toyota RAV44.5%
2Honda CR-V3.8%
3Toyota Corolla3.0%
4Toyota Sienna2.9%
5Toyota Camry2.9%
6Honda Odyssey2.3%
7BMW X32.3%
8Toyota Highlander1.9%
9Honda Civic1.8%
10BMW X51.7%
11Honda Accord1.5%
12Hyundai Santa Fe1.4%
13Ford Explorer1.2%
14Volkswagen Jetta1.1%
15Nissan Rogue1.1%
16Lexus RX1.0%
17Ford Escape1.0%
18Mercedes Benz C-Class1.0%
19Volvo XC901.0%
20Honda Pilot0.9%

The data was provided as a 146-page printed spreadsheet the State Department sent us in the mail. We converted the spreadsheet back to a digital form using optical character recognition (OCR) which can insert errors into all of that data. We wrote software to clean and verify the information where possible. Our analysis allowed us to identify the make and model of over 96% of the vehicles.