Americans’ Favorite Cars Are No Longer Sedans

The Fiscal Times
Traffic on the Interstate 405 freeway near Los Angeles International Aiprort
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Traffic on the Interstate 405 freeway near Los Angeles International Aiprort on November 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The American love affair with cars is still going strong, as an analysis of new vehicle registrations by IHS Automotive shows. Only it’s not in the form of the traditional four-door sedans that have long filled the lanes of the country’s roadways.

For the first time, new registrations of SUVs and crossovers through the first five months of the year have surpassed those of sedans, by a margin of 36.5 percent to 35.4 percent.

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“I don’t think it’s a big surprise,” Consumer Reports’ Senior Automotive Engineer Tom Mutchler said of the IHS findings. “You’ve had SUVs over the last couple of years becoming more and more car-like. Better to drive, safer. They’ve improved fuel economy. It’s gotten to the point where a small SUV is very much a replacement for a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry.”

IHS analyst Tom Libby said he expects SUVs and crossovers to own the market in the near term as Honda, Jeep and Chrysler are about to release updated crossover models. In the long term, IHS forecasters say, it’s unclear if SUVs and crossovers will hold their lead because of gas price concerns and challenges in hybrid power train availability for those models.

Five years ago, sedans held a 36.3 percent share of the retail market, while SUVs and crossovers had a 31.4 percent share. Since then, hatchbacks, pickup trucks, coupes, minivans and convertibles have all lost market share as SUVs and crossovers increased in popularity.

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Mutchler explained that early SUVs were “basically pickup trucks with a squared off cargo space in the back. They sat up high but were fairly narrow in the back, heavy and more prone to roll over.” Now, their improvements — including higher seating, ground clearance, interior space, towing capacity and all-wheel drive — are attractive, especially to certain drivers.

“Smaller, mid-size SUVs are great for an aging population,” Mutchler said. “They are easy to get in and out of. You’re at a chair height. Well-designed SUVs, like the Subaru Forrester, have terrific visibility. It’s like sitting inside of a fishbowl. They’re easy to maneuver and park.”

Libby said the trend toward SUVs and crossovers shows how important it is for carmakers to have competitive entries in these segments in order to grow sales. “It also says that in general, the differentiation between cars and light trucks is really going away,” he added. “It’s really not appropriate to speak about cars and trucks because of the crossover concept, which has grown so much and is a combination of the two.”

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