The Linguistics of Private Car Sales in Germany—Part 1: The East-West Divide

This is part one in a series of posts on private car sales in Germany. It introduces the dataset and shows that the private car market in Germany reflects significant differences between the formerly divided Eastern and Western part of the country after more than 25 years of reunification.

For the present investigation, Stefan Th. Gries and I were approached by a representative of Gebrauchtwagenheld, a Frankfurt-based company that offers car trade services. The company is interested in the potential of the linguistic component of private car sales—the descriptions written by the sellers. They provided us with a random snapshot of all private car ads in Germany at the end of 2016 consisting of more than half a million offers. This sample, which contains offers totalling a value of 5.5 billion euros, contains information about makes, models, zip codes and descriptions.

Before we launched into the linguistic part, we first assessed the distribution of ads across Germany. Figure 1 shows that there are ads from almost every zip code in the country.

Figure 1: Number of private car ads in Germany in our sample across the country.

Figure 1: Number of private car ads in Germany in our sample across the country.

Figure 1 also shows that there are regional differences in the number of private car ads. As expected, areas with high population density like the Ruhr area, for example, also show higher numbers of car ads. In the next step we therefore controlled for the population density and plotted the number of car ads per 1000 inhabitants.

Figure 2: Number of private car ads in Germany per 1000 inhabitants.

Figure 2: Number of private car ads in Germany per 1000 inhabitants.

Once we control for number of inhabitants, highly populated regions do not necessarity show higher scores anymore. We do see two hotspots, Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt, home towns of Volkswagen and Audi, respectively. The high capacity of car manifacturing in these places seems to have a trickle-down effect on private car sales. Apart from certain hotspots, we also observe a striking difference between the former Western part of the country and the former Eastern part: there are significantly more ads in the West than in the East (with the exception of the Berlin area). Looking at the data, the cutoff point between West and East is at five ads per 1000 inhabitants.