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Are Crossovers And Trucks Kicking The Car To The Curb?

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On: Fri, May 2, 2014 at 12:38PM | By: Elizabeth Puckett

Are Crossovers And Trucks Kicking The  Car To The Curb?

Once upon a time, cars ruled the road. The variety and quantity of car models in the 50s and 60s, for example, was astounding by today's standards. There were big coupes, small coupes, two-door and four-door wagons, two-door and four-door convertibles, and, of course, a whole lot of sedans. Today, cars come in four basic flavors: coupe, convertible, sedan, and wagon. The first two have two doors, the last two have four doors. That's it.

The reason is clear: trucks and crossovers are supplanting the car. This trend speaks volumes about today's drivers, driving habits, and fuel economy regulations.

Strong Large Vehicle Sales Reflect a Growing Economy
While it's still early, cars represented just 47.4% of auto sales in the United States from January 1st, 2014 through the middle of April. That means that—technically—cars are less popular than trucks and SUVs. While car aficionados may find this fact a bit deflating, it’s actually a good barometer for the economy. Pickup truck sales tend to reflect the strength of the economy—in years past, truck sales and economic growth have been related.

What's more, cars tend to be the most affordable of the production body styles—generally speaking—and they have the lowest operating costs when compared to trucks and SUVs (which suck up a lot of fuel). Growing truck and SUV sales reflect the fact that consumers are feeling more inclined to spend.

Car Popularity Peaked Long Ago
In 1980
, small cars accounted for 60% of the market and no one had ever heard of a “crossover”. In the 1970s, small Japanese imports competed with Detroit's big sedans and full-size vans, and no one had ever heard of “SUVs”. In the 1960s, muscle cars were king and trucks were just for farmers.

If we look at what happened to the car market between 1960 and 2014, and we think about a few trends in the US automotive market:
Automotive safety was an afterthought in the 60s, but today it's a key consideration. Thus, consumers often prefer larger vehicles (SUVs) as they're perceived to be safer.
Traffic congestion has increased since the 60s, and that has encouraged consumers to buy vehicles that feature a higher seating position so they can see better in traffic.
Strict fuel economy and emissions regulations have been applied to cars, which encouraged automakers to develop more trucks and SUVs

In the 60s and 70s, brands like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan grew by building small cars and trucks that were fuel efficient and affordable. Today, these same automakers offer a wide variety of trucks and SUVs. Toyota, for example, made their bones in the 70s and 80s selling Corollas and Camrys. Today, the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra enjoy hearty sales growth, up 25% since March 2013.

What Will the Future Hold?
If the current trends continue, cars will shrink to a third of the market by 2030. While there are reasons to wonder if SUV and truck sales can remain strong—new fuel economy rules may make truck and SUVs very costly—the fundamental reasons consumers have for buying trucks and SUVs don't seem to be waning.

Of course, it could just be that the distinction between cars, crossovers, and compact SUVs is merely semantic. If, for example, you compare a 1960 Ford Country Squire Wagon to a 2014 Ford Explorer, you find the vehicles both offer copious seating—seven passengers in the 2014 Explorer, nine in the 1960 Country Squire—premium interiors (for their respective times), lots of space for gear, and both weigh about two tons. An argument could be made that yesterday's station wagon's have merely been re-shaped.

What do you think: Are crossovers, trucks, and SUVs merely reconfigured cars, or have things fundamentally changed? Is the car going away?

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