The four-door sedan may have once been the staple of American highways. But those days are quickly disappearing. These days cars are rapidly being replaced by pickups, crossovers, and SUVs. And that’s showing no sign of slowing down.
According to figures cited by CNBC, as recently as ten years ago, Detroit’s Big Three automakers sold slightly more cars than trucks in America. The split was 51/49 then, but by the end of last year, it had gone all lopsided. In 2017, the proportion was 35 for cars, 65 for trucks.
At this rate, LMC Automotive figures that trucks (including pickups, crossovers, and SUVs) will account for about 90 percent of the market by 2022. The industry tracking firm forecasts that, within four years, GM’s domestic sales will consist 84 percent of trucks (with only 16 remaining for cars). Ford’s will be even higher at 90 percent. And Fiat Chrysler will focus almost entirely on trucks at 97 percent of capacity.
Who are what’s to blame?
The reasons, according to CNBC, are two-fold. On the one hand, fuel prices have been dropping, leaving consumers less concerned about fuel economy to prioritize other factors. On the other, trucks have been improving by leaps and bounds. Today’s pickups, crossovers, and SUVs drive better and consume less fuel than their predecessors, closing the gap to lower passenger vehicles.
Money (always) talks
They’re also more profitable for their manufacturers. CNBC notes that Ford, for example, makes an average of $4,500 more on a small EcoSport than it does on a comparable Fiesta, and $2,500 more than it would on a Focus. No wonder Dearborn is discontinuing the Fiesta in its home market, and is coming out with new trucks like the Ranger, Bronco, and Mach 1. The former two nameplates had long been absent from the US market. And the latter was previously used as a trim level on the Mustang pony car.
Ford isn’t alone, either. FCA has been steadily withdrawing from the passenger-car market and placing increased emphasis on more profitable trucks. Gone are the Chrysler 200, Dodge Dart, and Dodge Viper. Their capacity is being taken up by trucks like the Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler. Meanwhile Chevrolet is tipped to be dropping the Sonic hatchback and Impala sedan.
A rise in fuel prices could make passenger cars look more attractive again to both customers and manufacturers. But by the time that happens, trucks will likely have improved that much more. Either way, the American passenger car could carry on strictly as a niche product for enthusiasts.