Khalid Mehdi, a Brooklyn man who drives for Uber and Lyft gets a lot of questions from riders. But perhaps the most frequently asked is in reference to his car. “They wonder, ‘Why is it always a Camry for a ride-share?’ ” says Mr. Mehdi, who drives a 2014 Toyota Camry LE.
I’ve often wondered myself. Every time I summon a car, the driver invariably pulls up in a black Camry—dangling pine-tree air freshener optional.
It isn’t our imagination.
According to a 2018 report on the ride-share industry commissioned by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, 38% of the 72,000 non-premium, app-dispatched vehicles in New York City are Camrys—far outdistancing the runner-up Honda Accord, which accounts for 11%.
“Camrys are the overwhelming favorite vehicle,” says TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg.
Meanwhile, Camrys account for 2.6% of passenger cars in the U.S., according to automotive marketing and research agency Hedges & Co.
Kelley Blue Book Executive Publisher Karl Brauer says there are several reasons why the Camry is a favorite of ride-share drivers in addition to being the nation’s top-selling midsize sedan for two decades: Starting at roughly $24,000 for a new vehicle, it’s value-priced and reliable.
And while the model may be perceived as boring and devoid of emotion, ride-share drivers don’t care.
“They want a car that will never let them down,” Mr. Brauer says. “They use it as a pure tool to move around, not as a personal expression of who they are.”
The Camry also offers a quiet, comfortable, refined ride—important when you’re spending the whole day in the vehicle, he adds.
“This car is reliable and has good mileage, it never gives me any problems,” says Mr. Mehdi, who has racked up 131,000 miles on his Camry.
Jhalm Chowdhury, another New York City ride-share driver, says he doesn’t know much about cars, but his driver friends all advised him to get a Camry.
“It’s very, very good,” he reports. “The back seat and the trunk—there’s a lot of space.”
This summer, he says, his first Camry got rear-ended. He went out and bought another Camry.
Lyft driver Adam Rayshani recently sold his Toyota Highlander SUV because he was paying too much for gas and insurance. He has been renting a Camry from a friend this summer to test it out. “Now I’m going to buy one,” he says.
The ride-share drivers’ love affair with the Camry has its roots overseas, says AJ Gogia, an instructor at the Aaj Desi Black Yellow Green Professional Driver Academy in Queens. Many immigrated from countries where Toyota is the top brand.
“When you travel to India or Africa, if you see a motorcycle, it’s a Yamaha, and if it’s a car, it’s Toyotas,” he says.
Mr. Gogia, who is from India, says his first car was a Camry. “Now I have a Lexus, which is part of the Toyota company again,” he says. “I never drove any other brand.”
It isn’t just drivers embracing the Camry. The model is popular with New York City fleet owners who rent cars with TLC plates to ride-share drivers, typically charging $400 to $450 a week.
Eric Rothman, president and CEO of Fast Track Mobility in Queens, says that when he launched the vehicle-rental company in 2014, he offered more than a half-dozen models including SUVs and luxury cars such as the Toyota Avalon.
But drivers found it difficult to afford the more expensive rates and fuel costs associated with larger, high-end vehicles, he says. Other models didn’t make the quality cut.
Over time, his fleet, which offers more than 2,000 cars, coalesced around one model. “We’re 80% Camry,” he says.
It’s cheaper and more efficient to maintain a fleet when the selection is streamlined, Mr. Rothman says. “When you grow a fleet, you want uniformity in the product.”
Dryve, a New York City-based fleet that rents cars to ride-share drivers largely by the hour, says it has gone big on Camry after much experimenting.
While the company also offers Hyundai Elantras and Sonatas for $5.95 to $6.95 an hour, Camrys account for 70% of the company’s fleet, says Chani Krinsky, the head of marketing.
The main reason? Reliability. At Dryve, the average car racks up 40,000 miles a year. The Camry proved most reliable under those punishing conditions, Ms. Krinsky says.
Toyota says it is aware of the Camry’s appeal among ride-share drivers. It even offers special incentives: People with an active Uber driver profile can get $750 off the negotiated price of a Camry and other selected models, in one current example.
A Toyota spokeswoman says the company would argue against the notion that the Camry is perceived as boring, especially given the car’s recent redesign. “But we’ve certainly heard that sentiment before,” she says.
Mr. Mehdi, meanwhile, is getting ready to sell his 2014 Camry and upgrade to something nicer. “The next one I’m getting is a 2018,” he says. “Another Camry.”