Diplomatic cars are special. In the United States they get distinctive blue and red license plates, are tax exemptand thanks to diplomatic immunity, their drivers don’t have to pay parking ticket– although there are sometimes repercussions if they don’t.
They are also exceptionally likely to be Toyota Siennas.
Through a public records request to the Department of State, Quartz obtained a list of vehicles and trailers registered between May 2014 and August 2018 by diplomats in the United States. The list contained 8,860 vehicles, of which about a quarter were registered with diplomatic missions (such as embassies and consulates). The rest were registered with individual diplomats.
The four most common cars were Toyotas, with the brand’s minivan, the Toyota Sienna, accounting for more than 6% of all the cars we identified. Seating at least seven people, it is a practical car for transporting diplomatic staff to meetings. Honda’s minivan, the Odyssey, is the 7th most popular car. The Sienna’s popularity in the diplomatic corps is unusual. The car was not among the top 25 most purchased cars in the United States or in 2017 or 2018according to automotive research firm Kelley Blue Book.
Most common diplomatic cars registered in the United States between May 2014 and August 2018
|Rank||Brand and model||Share of vehicles|
|14||Hyundai Santa Fe||1.1%|
|19||Mercedes Benz S class||0.9%|
|21||Mercedes Benz E class||0.9%|
|23||jeep grand cherokee||0.8%|
|25||Mercedes Benz C class||0.8%|
When it comes to their personal vehicles, the preferences of US diplomats are similar to those of the general population but differ in one very specific way: few pickup trucks. While the top-selling vehicles in the United States are trucks like the Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado, vehicles registered with diplomats (rather than a mission) show a preference for smaller SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.
Most common personal cars registered with diplomats in the United States between May 2014 and August 2018
|Rank||Brand and model||Share of personal vehicles|
|12||Hyundai Santa Fe||1.4%|
|18||Mercedes Benz C class||1.0%|
The data was provided in the form of a 146-page printed spreadsheet that the State Department mailed to us. We converted the spreadsheet back to digital format using optical character recognition (OCR), which can insert errors into all of this data. We have written software to clean and verify the information as much as possible. Our analysis allowed us to identify the make and model of more than 96% of the vehicles.