Texans love to pound California. After all, we commonly think that the West Coast state simply doesn’t work. Drowning in debt, taxes that could choke a horse, congestion so bad in rush hour it makes the rest of the nation look like wide open freeways, ridiculously high-priced homes, and so on. True, it’s a fact that I know a number of Texans with homes on the West Coast who get there as often as they can. As one might imagine, those Texans don’t say many bad things about that state. And certainly during the winter months of the year I actually miss Southern California.For those who don’t know, even decades ago during the worst of the smog years, from December through February the skies would miraculously clear enough that one could see the snow capping the tops of the San Gabriel mountains to the east. Typically the morning temperatures are crisp, in the mid-50s, but warm up to the mid-70s. In an hour and a half you can be in the snow at Lake Arrowhead, or in half that time be fishing at Seal Beach. It’s no wonder California came to define America’s Car Culture; the state offers a million things to do — but fortunately for automakers none of those activities are within 30 miles of your home.The downside of California is that it certainly helps to be rich there — and their economy is far more volatile than ours is. While Texas new car dealers were coming back from the Great Recession of 2008 within a year, California dealers barely managed to sell 1 million vehicles. But all of that changed in 2012, as reported in a previous column, and new car sales in California showed a remarkable improvement, jumping 25 percent in total volumes. While this year isn’t quite as dramatic, it appears Californians will buy 12 percent more cars in 2013 than in the previous year and will exceed 1.7 million sales. Those numbers also mean that Californians are back to buying 12 percent of all new cars sold in America.The Industry’s Bellwether StateThis is probably why so many automobile manufacturers consider California the bellwether state determining long-term motoring trends across the country. And having said that, some truly surprising things have happened out West this year. If nothing else, the state does seem to offer a great deal of hope for Detroit, long term, while two Japanese manufacturers are moving ahead rapidly out West, too.Through the first nine months of 2013 California’s biggest winner for the best improvement in new car sales is Subaru, with sales up by an incredible 47.9 percent. Then again, this may not come as any real surprise; in the immediate aftermath of the Financial Meltdown of 2008, only Subaru and Hyundai-Kia were posting impressive increases in sales nationwide. This is the reason why A-rated dealers such as Randy Hiley in Fort Worth and Carl Sewell in Dallas added Subaru franchises to their lineups. Like the California Subaru dealers, both Hiley and Sewell turned in record performances for the month of November. But what most likely have not noticed is that Subaru has turned in record increases in sales in three of the past five years. What’s even more amazing is that the average new car shopper cannot name most of the vehicles in Subaru’s line-up. This is one Japanese automaker that has broken the fundamental rule of marketing, which is that customers have to identify with the model as much as the brand. Detroit’s Keeping Its PromiseComing in second in California was, wait for it, Dodge, with sales up by a whopping 38.8 percent over 2012 through the first nine months. The Dodge sales numbers do not include the exceptional Ram truck; it’s listed in a separate vehicle category and is posting a 33.2 percent increase in sales. Meanwhile, West Coast Mazda dealers came in third with a 23 percent increase in overall volumes, but that comes as no surprise. Mazda’s production has long been constrained, so product has been slow in coming. The company’s overall sales across the country likely would have increased much more if the dealers could have gotten more of their new Mazda6 and CX-5. (The new Mazda3 isn’t counted in this equation, because it was being introduced while the first nine months of sales was being analyzed.) BMW came in fourth with an increase in sales of 20.8 percent. But coming in right behind the German luxury car manufacturer was Ford, with an 18.2% increase in volumes. Lexus was up by 17.9 percent — but then Chevrolet came in next at 15.9 percent in additional sales volumes.And here a bit of Detroit’s 31-year-old promise of improvement finally showed the first signs of life out West. At least, that’s how long Detroit manufacturers have been claiming they were going to retake California, and by proxy the American market, by “driving the Japanese back into the Pacific Ocean.” That, by the way, was exactly the phrase executives with General Motors used when they launched the 1982 Pontiac J2000. And who can forget that, not that many years ago, Ford moved Mercury’s headquarters to California — to get a better finger on its customers’ pulse — before quickly moving it back to Detroit and killing the brand. Today, with Dodge up 38.8%, Ford climbing by 18.2 percent and Chevrolet up by 15.9 percent, it does look like Detroit has finally run out of PR gimmicks and hollow promises and found that, if you just build an exceptional car for the money, buyers will come. Even those who once claimed they would never again buy an American car.Oh, and although they’ve still got a long way to go in overall volumes, Cadillac’s 31 percent increase in sales volume, at least as a percentage, beat all of California’s other luxury car manufacturers’ numbers.Few LosersThere were some losers out West, mostly Kia and Hyundai. Kia’s sales were up by 3.9 percent, while Hyundai’s fell by almost the exact same amount. For what it’s worth, the combined Korean automaker saw sales rise in 2012 by 16.3 percent, but for two years running their overall volumes didn’t align with the overall increase in the size of the market and therefore they lost market share. But, to be fair, new car sales today are driven by who has the new and hottest vehicles on the market. That has likely hurt Kia and Hyundai, notwithstanding the fact that they really do well in tough economic times or when gas prices spike. Automobile manufacturers will be going over the same numbers this week. They’ll probably be congratulating themselves on a job well done and forecasting their future in America based on what happened in California this past year. Or maybe they’re screaming hysterically at their subordinates and demanding to know what went wrong. (Already a couple of major players with car companies that failed the California car litmus test have been removed from their jobs.)But for Subaru, Mazda, BMW and Detroit, 2013 was their year out West. As for those of us who love to make fun of California and all its inherent problems, Californians are back to buying more than 10 percent of all new vehicles sold in America. Then again, they have more fun on the weekends than we do — and they’ve got to have a car to get there. © Ed Wallace 2013Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism. He hosts Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: email@example.com, and read all of Ed’s work at www.insideautomotive.com.