By on August 11, 2017

2006 Toyota Camry XLE - Image: Toyota“This was the harshest move in consumer preference the industry has ever seen.”
– Bob Carter, Executive Vice President, Toyota North America

37 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States in the first seven months of 2017 were passenger cars. That’s correct. 63 percent of the new vehicles now sold in America are pickup trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and vans.

But how did we get to this 37-percent basement? When did we get here? How long did it take to get here? And is it really the basement?

Answers: we got here with the rise of crossovers, we began the approach to our current destination in 2013 (though the rate at which we approached has rapidly increased), and we might not be at the end of our journey quite yet.

“This was the harshest move in consumer preference the industry has ever seen,” Toyota executive vice president for North American sales, Bob Carter, tells Wards Auto.

To critics who suggest Toyota, and the industry at large, didn’t see the move coming, Carter points right at the auto industry’s own trend-spotting. “Did the industry see it coming? Yes, or you wouldn’t have what you have today.”Car Market Share Chart USA 2002-2017 - Image: © The Truth About CarsNew vehicles in new sectors, such as Toyota’s C-HR and the RAV4 Hybrid, don’t simply fall from the sky. The new vehicles Toyota is selling this year are the fruit of a product cycle that began half a decade ago.

Whatever the cause of the shift — and there are fuel economy regulations and fuel prices and AWD marketing all at play, among other factors — the shift has been noteworthy both for the degree to which traditional passenger cars have lost their hold on the market and because of the speed with which they lost that hold.

Now the mission is to determine whether the shift is complete, whether a 37/63 split represents the basement for passenger cars. Carter has said in the past that the current state of passenger car market share is likely to hold steady.

The investment in Toyota’s Kentucky Camry plant — there are now more workers at the Georgetown plant than ever before — speaks to Toyota’s belief that the car sector has reached bottom.

A five-year trend suggests otherwise.

[Image: Toyota]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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65 Comments on “How Far and How Fast Has U.S. Passenger Car Market Share Fallen? So Far, and so Fast...”


  • avatar
    thegamper

    It is a rapid descent for sure. Fuel prices look to hold steady long term so I would say the decline of the sedan is not over as desire for large vehicles will remain strong. But I believe there are a lot of people who still want sedans so I don’t think we will see it shrink below 30%.

    However, I have a theory that I think has some basis in fact. As pickups have gotten ever more comically large, tall, and more numerous, their ability to obstruct the view of every other motorist on the road has also increased and has resulted in motorists who drive lowslung vehicles to suffer proportionately to pickup truck massiveness. This has spurned sales of vehicles with higher seating positions, accelerating the trend ever further, faster, creating a snowball effect. As more and more vehicle exist that obstruct the sedan driver’s view of the world around them, it could push the sedan into sales depths not expected. So, in short, I blame pickup trucks as the catalyst for it all.

    • 0 avatar
      3XC

      I think you’re onto something.

      Phthalates, Bisphenol-A, soy in our diets, obesity, whatever the reasons, more men are insecure about something (ahem) and buying ever more preposterous pickups. Three ton brodozers are the red badge of impotence, but you can’t see around them in a Highlander any more than you would be able to in a Camry.

      If you think I’m just kidding around: https://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2017/07/falling-sperm-counts-are-linked-endocrine-disrupting-chemicals

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Pickup truck and SUV sales endured very high fuel prices in the past decade and a half. They tanked with the economy and lack of credit to finance high dollar vehicles. It’s a general misconception that customers shift out of trucks and SUVs back to cars when fuel prices spike. As long as they have a job to fuel them, they will. Preferences for these vehicles are strong.

    • 0 avatar
      Heavymetal_Hippie

      Very much agreed. I’m a “truck guy” myself – 2014 F-150. But the newer, larger rigs have gotten so out of control with the size. I was at a light the other day, next to a 2017 F-250. The thing was TOWERING over me. I could not believe something so enormous is allowed to drive on public roads without a CDL. NO ONE needs that much truck. You can tow and haul a lot without having so much chassis. I live in Alaska and pickups are probably 2/3 of all vehicles on the road. Here, if you get in an accident, chances are good the other car will be a 3500 RAM. I would terrified to let my wife drive on these roads in some midsize, low family sedan.

      And I’m not usually the “there oughta be a law” type, but it does seem high time some rules are set out limiting the pickup truck size arms race. They are just getting bigger, and bigger.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        It’s mostly cosmetic to tap into the penis size arms race, too.

        No can convince me that pickup trucks (even 3/4 tons) can’t be 15% to 20% smaller in terms of everything but the bed length, exterior dimensions, hold just as many people and stuff inside, be just as tow and payload capable, while actually looking better (less idiotic).

        Just look at the extraneous design cues that are ridonkulous, such as the 10′ foot long chrome side view mirror, 10′ high chromeplastic grillz, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        3XC

        At least in Alaska there is some rational purpose for having capable 4x4s with adequate ground clearance. I live in suburban Maryland, I drive almost exclusively on congested commuter roads, and none of the white collar office guys driving around in their pickups require a foot of ground clearance to go to the mall. One doesn’t need a medical degree to sort out the “mine’s bigger” mentality.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          “One doesn’t need a medical degree to sort out the “mine’s bigger” mentality.”

          No, just a cynical attitude along the lines of “it isn’t *my* choice, SO IT’S THE WRONG CHOICE”.

          • 0 avatar
            Whatnext

            No John it’s not a wrong choice, it’s a stupid choice. Very few people need to spend that kind of money for that big a vehicle. Borrowing money to buy a depreciating asset you don’t need us a stupid choice.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            What you consider stupid, I consider profitable. Makes the world go ’round.

        • 0 avatar

          Same here. In my town theres one guy with a massive crew cab diesel chevy pickup. Where I live the cool kids drive audi or tesla. He does not boat snowmobile or rv camp. Always funny driving up To the school run. My BIL otoh has a Tacoma crew awd and works at a western ski area. His truck doesnit all. My car choices are as stupid as anyone else but the big pickup in my town is just cumbersome. Of course my desire for a
          400 hp two seat vette is
          Totally rational

      • 0 avatar
        Drew8MR

        I live in SoCal and work in an area that’s like 95% Hispanic, so alot of the guys are shorties like me. Almost no one is using the newer big trucks for stuff like landscaping because the bed height is way out of hand. You’re lifting stuff to shoulder height basically. Which gets real old after a few bags of mortar. And good luck loading loose material with a wheelbarrow. These trucks are essentially useless if you’re working out of the bed.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        2017 F-250 dimensions:
        232-266″ L x 80″ W x 78-82″ H

        1999 F-250 dimensions:
        221-258″ L x 78-80″ W x 73-81″ H

        So, its between 1 and 5 inches higher after 18 years, a little longer (likely due to a cab stretch to increase interior room) and the same width.

        Its not going toe-to-toe with a long-nose Pete anytime soon.

        • 0 avatar
          thegamper

          I guess its not happening then John. Remember, most of us here were alive 20 years ago. No tape measure or time machine necessary.

        • 0 avatar
          pbx

          Your reference to the ‘long-nose Pete’ fits rather well with the general tenor of the conversation.

        • 0 avatar
          CobraJet

          I have a 94 Silverado extended cab 2wd and an 09 Silverado Crew Cab. When I need to haul something bulky or heavy, I use the 94 because of the lifting height. My 09 is quite a bit taller and longer, but it is still dwarfed by some of the new Fords, such as a Super Duty.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Overall height is not the same as bed height. There’s a landscaper living across the street and he drives a 4-door F150 that he uses as a BOF, RWD V8 family sedan as well as a work truck.

          He has a custom made folding ramp to move equipment/material in and out of the bed. The truck and ramp are so long, he parks in front of a fire hydrant 150 feet away from his garage to unload his equipment, then parks the truck in the alley.

          The hydrant area and two driveways give him enough room to unload the truck. For landscaping alone, he could get by with an 1970s El Camino, or a small 1970s pickup, and get a cheaper to run full size sedan for the family.

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        you are VERY wise

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Same. I’ve owned a compact pickup and two Avalanches. When I bought my first one in 2001, it was darn close to the Hummer H2 as the poster child of automotive evil. I have a 2011, and it is dwarfed by 1/2 ton pickup trucks today. Dimensionally, a crew cab Chevy Colorado is almost identical to the Avalanche.

        How big is too big?

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        A coworker with a 4WD F-350 is complaining about how big the new trucks are. Says the bed level is eye level and his gooseneck farm trailer isn’t tall enough to be usable without banging the sides of the bed.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Yes the general “largeness” of vehicles is causing people to enlarge their own vehicle in order to keep. There was a time when buying a small sedan was desired for fuel mileage, handling and some sense of sportyness. Well… MPG have increased across the board and CUVs have seen a big boost here. Now you have a truck-like vehicle but with car-like mileage. Nobody cares about handling anymore. Same with sportyness, no reason for that when you are stuck in traffic constantly. Plus with all these driver aids (lane keeping, radar cruise, etc.) people don’t “drive” anyway. They just want some place nice to sit, with a good view and ease of entry. CUVs score high in these areas. Thus many of the reasons for purchasing a sedan are rapidly going away.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Keeping up with the pickup arms race in Houston, plausible. But how many brodozers are there in the liberal Megapoleis to see around?

      31% of the 109,000 new vehicles listed on cars.com within 30 miles of Manhattan are sedans. As are 30% of 32,000 within 30 miles of San Francisco, 33% of 36,000 within 20 miles of the White House and 25% of 41,000 within 30 miles of Boston (where it snows.)

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        A lot of the “increase” in pickup size is either A. Cosmetic or B. Aftermarket. The “big rig” styling may make trucks look larger then the older more sedate styling, but as John pointed out the actual dimensions have barely changed.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          For comparable trucks, yes. But hardly anyone bought crew cabs back in the day. Most full-size trucks were RCSB, RCLB, or ECSB back then. The crew cab, medium bed configuration that’s the most popular today is one to several feet longer than most of the older trucks.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    I like sedans, but the current tend of stupidly sloping roof lines is killing the practicality of them. Sedans are becoming coupes is that regard, which eliminates the whole point of a sedan in the first place. So if you eliminate practicality and offer CUVs with increased practicality (and catering to image trends) what do you think people will opt for?

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      The 4 door coupe sedan has totally replaced the actual 2 door coupes and sporty coupes. All the Mitsubishi Eclipses, Honda Accord Coupes, Toyota Solara, Ford Probe etc are gone, and we have these low slung 4 doors to replace them.

  • avatar
    wsn

    And there is a lot of playing with the names. For example, the entry level Infiniti CUV QX30 is only 2 inches taller than the entry level sedan Q50. It’s essentially a sedan with slightly different proportions and a CUV name.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Sedans just aren’t what most people want to drive anymore. They are going to become niche vehicles for enthusiasts, the same way coupes used to be before they nearly disappeared. The latest Camry and Accord, both significantly more driver-focused, are responding to this. The default vehicle is now the CUV. As CUV offerings expand to cover more niches and social expectations increasingly demand CUVs, CUV market share will keep going up.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Revenge of the station wagon.

    With the MSM softening us for civil/nuclear war, maybe there’s peace of mind with d-pillar on stilts.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I really want to support the “Save the Sedans” movement with my next automotive purchase, really I do. I grew up in sedans, I’ve driven big quite ones, sad small ones with 92 hp Iron Dukes. I’ve lusted after B-body GM, Panther FoMoCo, put in bids at Fleet Vehicle auction on a M-body Chrysler. I felt like I was one with Dear Ol’ Dad’s 1992 Bonneville. I like quiet and isolation, one finger steering.

    But what do I drive? A Highlander. When I go looking on AutoTrader and visiting the “Build Your Own” sections of manufactures websites looking at Chargers, 300s, Avalons, Impalas, Lacrosses, etc. what pulls me off track?

    Crew cab 1/2 ton 4×4 V8 trucks (everyones), Hemi Grand Cherokees…

    It will be interesting to see what I choose.

  • avatar
    HahnZahn

    From my point of view, I can understand why sedan sales have plunged – I don’t find them practical. But I’m also egotistically secure enough and analytical enough to know I don’t need a truck or SUV. Of course they’re horribly expensive and use too much fuel, but I simply haven’t ever lived anywhere in my adult life where it wouldn’t be a burden to park them. I live in San Diego, and I’ve squeezed into parallel spots by the skin of my teeth a million times in my Golf, then my SportWagen, and now my Impreza.

    The economics of the SUV phenomenon confound me. Like, my wife and I are doing very well, but I could never come to terms with sinking $35 or $40k into a vehicle that doesn’t sit smack in the middle of my venn diagram of affordability, utility and efficiency. It makes me wonder about the lives of others – are they doing that much better? Or are they just so uninhibited that they’ll buy a vehicle based on ego or the 1% of the time they could use a bigger vehicle? For the idiot across the street from me who bought a dual-cab Titan that he apparently never uses for anything, I’d guess the latter.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yeah, what an idiot for buying something he likes, but you disapprove of.

      • 0 avatar
        HahnZahn

        Attaway to miss the point, genius. He’s bought a gigantic truck he doesn’t use for its intended purpose. It’s too big on the street he parks it on, often sucking up multiple spaces. Then he transports the nuisance to the road where it’s hard to see around.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          If I parked on the street my car would be a $1K domestic sedan. Wait, I have one of those and a driveway. Oh well, I’m cheap.

          Seriously I can’t imagine parking something nice and new on the street.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Given the lack of savings and high debt load of the average American there’s a good chance that many (most?) new vehicle buyers are making an objectively idiotic purchase.

        It probably reasonable to expect that that number is even higher for people who pay a premium for expensive trucky/sporty capabilities that they rarely or never use.

        I basically assume that middle-class working people with cars that cost more than $35k are fiscal dingdongs until they demonstrate otherwise. I’m rarely proven wrong once I get more information.

      • 0 avatar
        Whatnext

        It’s a shame there isn’t a thumbs down function on TTAC.

  • avatar
    krohde

    It’s pretty simple, IMO. The sedan, if you really think about it, is a pretty inefficient design compared to its CUV counterpart. The CUV has a much larger cargo area that will fold flat to hold even more, while driving pretty much identically to the sedan at anything below 7/10ths of the limit. It offers the higher driving position that everybody loves and the security of AWD frequently. All that makes the CUV a far better choice, now that the gas mileage of them is almost identical too, or at least close enough to not feel like you’re killing your wallet to drive it. Case in point – I’m the owner of a 2017 Mazda CX-5, though it’s my wife’s DD. I love it for all the above reasons.

    All those factors, plus the way government regs let car companies fudge CAFE numbers with SUVs/CUVs, makes the 63% number make a lot of sense.

    As for all the people bitching about truck buyers purchasing a vehicle beyond their needs, so what? I daily drive a 412 horsepower Mustang, which is not really needed on my commute, but is damn fun when the road opens up. It makes me happy and I pay all applicable taxes on it.

  • avatar

    Size matters. Instead of a small car, or a mid size sedan, the same priced trucklet has the same engine and electronics, but is bigger. Detroit has always charged for size and HP…why is the sedan with six inches more legroom in the back $10k more ? The Trucklet breaks that embargo.

    Civic or HR-V ? Truck……

  • avatar
    thelaine

    This. They hold more of your stuff more conveniently and you can see better out of them. The CUV formula is a home run. For a great number of people, they are a better choice than a sedan.

    As for pickups, they give you whatever you want. The full sized 4 door “crew cab” blew the market wide open and made them a family car. From a simple 2 wheel drive work truck to a Platinum-level luxury cruiser and everything in between, they give you choice. Lots of people can find what they like. Americans like space and/or power, from an Escalade to a Ferrari, people tend to buy as much of either or both as they can afford. CUVs give more space than the sedan alternative. Pickups give you both. Only a big spike in fuel prices makes people compromise on that. It is part of the American culture. Attributing all of this to cock size may say more about the curious person speculating than it does about the vehicle buyer.

  • avatar

    let gas go back to 4 bucks and see what happens.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      You are probably right. I have a new Lacrosse. I haven’t been on any long trips but it appears the thing may get 32 mpg or better out on the highway. This with 310 horsepower and plenty of torque. I considered an Enclave but the current model looks dated. I don’t think they can top 25 mpg highway.

  • avatar
    pbx

    I’m wondering if an aging and more, uh, rotund population has anything to do with with the shift away from sedans to easier on the knees and girth vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      In my parents case: yes – they traded their otherwise perfectly good Sonata turbo for Ford Escape. Mom fell and injured her hip, after that the Sonata became just too painful to get in/out of daily. My father (who is 6’4″) was never a fan of cars due to his frame and thus always drove a van or SUV.

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    I’ve had discussions about this issue with my son over the last few years a number of times.

    “Dad, let’s buy a Range Rover”, he says, “they are so cool”. “Can’t afford even half a (new) Range Rover but sure, they are cool”, say I. “Then let’s get a Cayenne,”, “no”, “Maccan”, “no way”. He knows I hate trucks and dislike SUVs but he thinks we look weird as a family when we only have 2 small cars and not a single SUV/CUV.

    In general it’s been proven by numerous studies that SUV/CUV are not very practical, they are more prone to accidents, they are heavier and handle worse than cars and their consumption is higher. Yet in general they at best have only marginally more space than a sedan and significantly less than a station wagon. Sure, the negatives are not that bad, but there are no rational positives as opposed to irrational ones “sitting up high makes me feel safer”.

    My conclusion; people are in general often irrational in their life choices and more importantly perhaps, they are sheep, do whatever everybody else is doing.

    And that’s how I end our discussion every time. I’d like to think of myself as not being sheep and follow everybody else even when it makes little sense. And if I want to be irrational (getting something that I don’t need) I’d much rather buy something that will make the driving more fun not less such as an M2 or C63 S.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      Most people are not car enthusiasts. They buy what other people buy.

    • 0 avatar
      jthorner

      Once upon a time, big two door coupes like the Cutlass, Monte Carlo and Torino sold like gangbusters. Car buyers are rarely rational.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Our CUVs have been hugely practical. Can’t carry anything very boxy in our sedan. Our older sedan gets around 30 mpg on the highway. Our big CUV gets 27 mpg on the highway and has AWD. I can’t afford the difference in the MPG.

      My whole family will tell you that the CUV is more spacious, more comfortable, and more capable of day to day life.

      Rather than considering lux or new CUVs, consider an older four cylinder CUV. You might find that its as easy to operate as your smaller car with just a little worse MPG.

    • 0 avatar
      brentrn

      I pointed out all the problems with a CUV to a friend recently. Her reply was that she wants “to sit up high and see in traffic”. Sadly, when everyone else has a truck or CUV us sedan drivers are left with limited forward vision in heavy traffic.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    People who are not poor often buy what they want, not what they need. What seems irrational to one person may seem like a deserved indulgence by another. It is a difference in preferences and values.

  • avatar
    mike978

    What is it with Tim showing the Legacy and 6. Does he have some desire for these to die?

    Also you have faith in a 5 year trend contuining to zero rather than it level of like Toyota. I trust Toyota more than you.

  • avatar
    Dan

    The real picture is even more dire than that collapsing market share chart appears. Supply hasn’t caught up with market reality so dealer lots are absolutely flooded with sedans that few people want. In a buyer’s market there’s $5-6,000 on the hoods to move them at all – and these are cheap cars without anything like the profit margin to support that discounting in the long term.

    As soon as this oversupply is worked down the fire sale pricing will go away and that 37% market share will turn into 30 on a good month.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    They don’t meet my needs. In winter it is no surprise to have 4-6 young hockey players in the car, and mounds of their “odiferous” gear. Summer’s a little lighter. My daughter doesn’t use as much gear but there are 6 players plus cubic feet of towels and water bottles. Passenger cars just don’t meet my needs in anyway. The old 4-doors plus trunk are inadequate to my requirements. I can also carry quantum’s more stuff from the lumber store and have a good solid AWD drive system under my family in our nasty winters. The old cars just don’t meet the new life styles. I will never have another.

  • avatar

    I envy Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. Even in this age of the SUV, they still thousands of sedans and compacts each year. In fact the Camry and Accord easily outsell most GM trucks and SUVs.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Woo hoo! The station wagon and hatchback have triumphed in the end! Sure, we have to give today’s wagons a little excess ground clearance and call them a Crossover, but these are just tall, practical station wagons. Hatchbacks are dead, unless you put a hybrid power-train in them and then you have The Prius!

    The two most rational configurations for flexibility, usability, drive-ability and efficiency have won!!!!

    Meanwhile, stupid configurations like two door coupes and big on the outside, small on the inside sedans are getting run out of town.

    Time to party!%$$%^*)&)&(*)(*&_!

    • 0 avatar
      Noble713

      I think the primary market for sedans, and RWD sport sedans in particular, should probably be metropolitan-dwelling bachelor car guys with good jobs. That’s a vanishing market in the States but a booming one in Asia, IMO.

      Maybe it’s just because I live in Japan, but a RWD sedan is far and away the optimal configuration.

      You can’t touge the mountains in a CUV, and you can’t get sideways in intersections at night. Most crossovers short of a Lexus/Land Rover/BMW X5 are ugly and/or unattractive to women (lots of chicks here dig VIP style or drift cars). Coupes like my Supra are dead sexy but good luck banging a chick in the back of one (because this is Asia and lots of adult women live with their families, and love hotels aren’t always available).

      But you can load your groceries (or a set of spare tires) in the trunk, pick up 3 of your friends, drop them off at a club, pick up a girl, take her street racing, bang her in the back seat in a poorly-lit parking lot, then pick up your now-drunk friends….. all with the same vehicle. And probably without even adjusting your driving position.


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