This is exactly the time when SUV sales overtook sedan sales in America
It turned out that the sedan had died no It has been greatly exaggerated. While a handful of automakers still offer traditional low-slung vehicles, the vast majority of cars sold are crossovers and SUVs, a pattern we’ve seen accelerate at a rapid rate over the past few years.
The massive EPA report we’ve been reading contains a graph of total market share by body style, somewhat confusingly categorized as follows:
– Four-wheel drive cars
– SUV Truck
– Pick up
The “SUV” and “truck SUV” categories seem a bit vague, but they all include crossovers and SUVs, albeit in ways that may seem strange — more on that later. Let’s dig deeper into this graph, which dates back to 1975, to see if we can find the exact year crossovers started to take hold. With a little basic math, this task becomes surprisingly easy.
Essentially, this chart always adds up to 100 percent because it provides an overview of all vehicles produced, but the popularity of each segment changes over time. The boom and bust of minivans is captured in all their glory, while the sharp decline in SUV sales around 2008 is indicative of economic distress. Demand for pickup trucks has remained largely constant over the past 48 years or so, while the traditional passenger vehicle has only seen a decline in market share. In this graph we will find the point at which SUVs and crossovers surpassed passenger cars.
How can we find a specific year if we only have a graph (we can get the data if we have more time)? Well, we’ll do it the old fashioned way, just by counting pixels. I started by taking a screenshot of the EPA chart with a width of 620 pixels and a height of 573 pixels. Although this is not a great decision, it is enough to give us an idea of the point we are looking for. The distance between the tick marks for 2015 and 2025 is 66 pixels. Divide that by ten, and you get 6.6, or not seven pixels, per year. Now, if we use that to find the year 2017, we’ll see that the area of sedans at that point on the x-axis is 171 pixels long, while the area of SUVs and 4WD trucks combined is 175 pixels long. This means that 2017 was the year the sedan lost its lead in the crossover and SUV segment. In the years since, the sedan market share has only shrunk while the crossover market share has only grown.
Unsurprisingly, no crossovers or SUVs topped the list of best-selling vehicles in 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, or 1995. In 1975 and 1980, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling vehicle in America, with the Ford pickup truck taking over F-Series has its place. 1985. Interestingly, the Ford F-Series pickup truck has not relinquished its leadership since then, and remains the best-selling vehicle in America. What about that?
Why did this happen? Well, part of that is due to how fuel economy regulations are calculated. Corporate fuel economy regulations set by the government feature one set of standards for cars and another, lower set of standards for trucks. Under the Code of Federal Regulations, for a crossover or SUV to qualify as a light truck, it must:
A vehicle capable of driving off-road, as evidenced by the fact that it:
(I) It has four-wheel drive. or
(secondly) Rated at over 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight; And
(2) It has at least four of the following characteristics calculated when the vehicle is at curb weight, on a level surface, the front wheels are parallel to the longitudinal center line of the vehicle, and the tires are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure—
(I) The approach angle is not less than 28 degrees.
(secondly) The fracture angle is not less than 14 degrees.
(Third) Departure angle is not less than 20 degrees.
(Fourthly) The running distance is not less than 20 cm.
(Fifth) The front and rear axle clearance is at least 18 cm each.
Here’s more from the EPA trends report The chart above comes from:
Manufacturers offer a wide range of light duty vehicles in the United States. Under the CAFE and GHG regulations, new vehicles are separated into two distinct regulatory categories, passenger cars and light trucks, and each vehicle category has separate GHG and fuel economy standards5. Vehicles may qualify as light trucks based on the vehicle’s functionality as defined in the regulations (for example, if the vehicle can transport goods on an open bed or the cargo carrying volume is larger than the passenger carrying volume). Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 6,000 pounds or that have four-wheel drive and meet various off-road requirements, such as ground clearance, can also qualify as light trucks. Vehicles that do not meet these requirements are considered cars.
How do these regulations apply to transfers? Let’s use the Toyota RAV4 as an example. Gasoline models have a minimum of 8.4 inches of ground clearance, and all RAV4s ride on a 105.9-inch wheelbase. Substituting these numbers into a basic formula for the fracture angle, we get: B=2⋅Tan–1(2⋅8.4 / 106.3). Results? 18 degree breakover angle meets (2)(ii) light truck classification requirements. We already know that the vehicle’s travel distance is more than 20 centimetres, so (2)(iv) is sorted, and since the RAV4 uses independent suspension at all four corners, it’s safe to assume that (2)(v) is also satisfied.
The RAV4 also has a departure angle of 21 degrees, which satisfies (2)(iii) and should mean that all-wheel-drive RAV4s can be classified as light trucks. Front wheel drive models? Well, that’s where the EPA’s “SUV” classification comes in. This set of light truck standards gives Toyota a big break in meeting fuel economy standards, and the Japanese brand isn’t the only one taking advantage of these regulations. Ford famously discontinued its American sedan lineup in favor of crossovers and Mavericks, leaving the Mustang as the lone survivor.
In addition, higher profit margin vehicles generate higher profits. If you’re an automaker, you can take a car platform, lift it up, put an SUV-like body on it, sell it at an inflated price, and it can help finance your transition to electric vehicles. All this money has to come from somewhere, right?
However, we can’t place the blame entirely on automakers and bureaucrats for the proliferation of crossovers. Consumers love things, and it’s easy to see why. They’re a good size, comfortable, have the sidewall to handle crumbling infrastructure and the ground clearance needed to operate during snowstorms. Their vented forms are usually very practical, and don’t drink as much fuel as they used to. If you have a family, hobbies that take up a lot of space, or live in a particularly snowy place, a crossover makes a lot of sense as a daily driver. Even fans of traditional high-performance cars can enjoy it, because just think of the parts that can be put into it.
Not every vehicle needs to appeal to enthusiasts, and that’s okay. After all, when was the last time you saw someone autocross in a Toyota Avalon? Even with the argument that regular crossovers aren’t as easy to turn into enthusiast specials as regular cars, how many of you have bought an Avalon TRD? The industry-wide shift to crossovers isn’t worth getting upset about.
(Image credits: Hyundai, EPA, Oldsmobile, Ford, Toyota, Mazda)
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