The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

When headlines deceive: Toyota Prius is top-selling car in California, but...

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Experian and the California New Car Dealers Association report that the Toyota Prius is the best-selling vehicle in California through the first nine months of 2012. 

Amazing, right? If you went with the headline, you'd think that Prii are thick on the roads of the Golden State.

But if you take a closer look at the numbers, you get a different story. 

Take nothing away from Toyota and the Prius: the success of the iconic hybrid is a great story and, with gas prices spiking of late, fuel economy matters today more than ever.

But here's the thing. Toyota has sold 46,830 Priuses (I called then "Prii" once and that's all you're going to get) in California this year. That's a quarter of all Priuses sold nationwide.

A different story emerges when you compare that with the total number of new vehicles sold in California this year. So far, Californians have bought 1.25 million cars. The Prius is 3.7 percent of that. Another 96.3 percent of the California market is still up for grabs.

The real story is that pretty much everybody is selling cars in California these days. The state is the biggest market in the U.S. - the most important market in the world. The auto sector has come roaring back in better shape than at any time since the financial crisis. Who isn't selling cars, in a model year when total sales are on pace toward 15 million vehicles sold (eclipsing 2011 by 2 million)? 

Lincoln. Suzuki. Mitsubishi. Brands and carmakers that are already struggling. Heck, Fiat was up almost 300 percent year-over-year. Fiat! Which is selling one car, the peppy, cheerful 500 subcompact.

The news is good for Toyota and Prius - and there's a lot of good news in California to go around.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter. And ask Matt questions at Quora.

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