By on July 7, 2016

TTAC car sales chart

Barely four out of every ten new vehicles sold in the United States in the first-half of 2016 were traditional passenger cars. Toyota Camrys, Honda Civics, Ford Mustangs, Mercedes-Benz C-Classes, and dozens of alternatives remain numerous — more than 3.5 million were sold in 2016’s first six months.

But together, these cars make up a smaller chunk of the market now than they did a year ago, and a far smaller slice of the market than just five years ago. Cars were at parity with light trucks (pickups, SUVs, crossovers, vans) in 2011 and earned 52 percent of the market the year prior.

In 2016, the market is far more open to the idea of a “SUV” or “crossover” that carries only a hint of SUV or crossover-like cues or capability, from subcompact utilities such as the Honda CR-V to performance-oriented luxury utilities like the Porsche Macan. These vehicles, using the HR-V and Macan as examples, aren’t purchased in 2016 by a customer who, five years ago, would have purchased a traditional utility vehicle.

Pickup trucks, too, have made great market share gains over the last five years. In 2011, 16 pickup truck nameplates combined to produce 14.2 percent of the auto industry’s U.S. volume. So far this year, 11 truck nameplates owned 14.8 percent of the market.

Even minivans and commercial vans, which claimed 6.3 percent of the U.S. market in the first-half of 2016 and 5.9 percent in 2011, are now a moderately more prominent force.

Honda HR-V

Blame (or give credit to) CAFE, blame (or give credit to) automakers’ collective response to consumer desires, blame (or give credit to) automakers’ ability to stoke the flames of all-wheel-drive desire, ride-height hunger and body-cladding cravings. American new vehicle buyers are buying and leasing fewer conventional cars.

The last time the market was remotely as large as it is now, 2006, 8.1 million traditional passenger cars were sold in the United States. 7.1 million is the more likely figure in 2016, and that drastic reduction occurs in a larger overall market.

Automakers criticized in the past for relying too heavily upon less-efficient light trucks would perhaps not be stung as severely if fuel prices were to spike in the latter half of 2016 or in 2017. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, for example, which produced 32 percent of its 2006 sales with cars, doesn’t have at the core of its Ram P/U lineup a 14-mpg 5.7L Hemi V8 as in 2006. That’s a 17-mpg truck now. Jeep’s best seller in 2006, in V6 4×4 form, was a 17-mpg Grand Cherokee. The optional V6 engine/4×4 trim in Jeep’s current Cherokee best seller, is rated at 23 mpg.

On the other hand, a far greater percentage of FCA’s sales in 2016 are generated by light trucks than the 32-percent figure from 2006, as the accompanying chart manifests.

The chart, of course, makes no judgements. There’s no suggestion that hedging against a fuel price spike is a profitable business model now, nor is there any guarantee that it will be in the future. Without high-volume crossovers, the Volkswagen Group’s namesake Volkswagen brand was suffering from declining U.S. sales long before the TDI scandal. Subaru, meanwhile, treads the true “crossover” playing field so capably in the United States that the passenger car figures (28 percent of the brand’s sales from Imprezas/WRXs, Legacys, BRZs) isn’t the most accurate portrayal of the brand’s status.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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63 Comments on “As SUVs And Pickup Trucks Surge, Which Automakers Sell An Inordinate Number Of Cars?...”


  • avatar

    Hyundai/ Kia make better “American cars” than the Big 3 do.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Isn’t it time to stop pretending that some of these CUVs are anything other than cars? An Impreza is a “car” but an Impreza Crosstrek is not? Really? That’s nonsense. A CR-V is a car. A Rav 4 is a car. These are nothing but lifted hatchbacks with AWD available.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Yep, the HR-V being my most detested example of the runting of CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      slance66, it is the higher seating position and better visibility that sets them apart from “mere” cars.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Cars used to have CUV high seating positions, and there are some cars today that still do (Ford Five Hundred/Taurus being the most obvious example).

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          The Taurus feels like a cave inside. It is the opposite of a car that possesses good visibility. It’s like a Camaro sedan when it comes to greenhouse.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            He’s talking about the 2008-09 Taurus, which was a Five Hundred with a different front clip and taillights. It had awesome visibility.

            At any rate, I wouldn’t consider the 2005-09 Five Hundred/Taurus to be a car of “today”.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That Sable Premier in dark colors was a looker.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Cars for those who still need booster seats.

    • 0 avatar
      Sjalabais

      I agree. They’re just cars that try to utilize space a tad better (more upright seating position solves the leg puzzle so much easier), with a ground clearance equal to cars from the 90s. A statisticians nightmare though…like registering cause of death to a guy who had a heartache and then crashed – where to set the cross?

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      The CUV, to me is the evolution of the station wagon from the 60’s.

      They offer ease of use for both young and old families. Seriously who wants to hoist a large stroller over the lip of a truck, when you can put in the Cr-V flat and pull it out when you arrive.
      They realistically do not sit that much higher. A bit yes, but not like they have a six inch lift.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ve seen the CUV as the logical evolution of the cars of the 30s and 40s before the “longer, lower, wider” mantra hit Detroit hard.

        • 0 avatar
          LeeK

          Exactly right, Principal Dan. At this July 4th’s Pancakes on the Plaza event there was also a car show that featured about 100 cars from all eras. The thing that struck me looking around the Packards, Chevys, and Dodges of the 30s, 40s, and even 50s was how ginormous they were both inside and out. Lots of head (for hats) and leg room. The modern CUV is a manifestation of that simple concept: most people want a big, roomy vehicle to go about their day.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          As long as speed limits are retained at appropriate-for-40s-cars levels, that logic makes all the sense in the world. At least as long as your idea behind getting in a car, has nothing to do with actually getting somewhere on some reasonable dispatch.

          “Longer, lower, wider” is what all non singletrack vehicles, optimized for the task of being actual vehicles, tends towards. Simply because long, low, wide makes them better at vehicling. This allows for better control pitch, roll and yaw, which are the properties one deals with, when engaging in that sort of thing.

          • 0 avatar
            Wheatridger

            True that! Our family cars are a GTI and a Tiguan. The Tig has “sports suspension,” so it’s as close to a GTI-spec as you can get. The only difference is a ride and seating height that totals about a foot higher in the Tiguan.

            My GTI shows a near-perfect balance of stiffness and compliance, with a comfortable ride in every situation. The Tiguan is much stiffer, but the real difference is the added height. That adds to the lever action that tosses your head side to side when the wheels dip for uneven pavement. It’s a completely different experience from the GTI, and I find it quite uncomfortable.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      slance66,
      It’s been that way for years in the US. The US auto manufacturers have been able to convince the Government to make vehicles like the PT Cruiser “trucks”. This is a vehicle based on a Neon.

      I do think some form of reclassification of vehicles is required. The EPA and CAFE have different ideas on what a truck is, this is from Federal government bodies.

      The way in which vehicles are classified is used to promote certain vehicles that are beneficial to the US manufacturers (large vehicles), thus reducing competition.

      Look at the graph above and where do the Big Three sit? This proves the US manufacturers are given a helping hand in keeping the bigger vehicles on the production line.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @BAFO – Is it your rage that won’t let you see things clearly? It’s not just the Big Three that benefit from loopholes and “given a helping hand”. Those not building CUVs are behind the curve, especially FCA.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Isn’t this a government regulation- created problem? Light trucks are treated differently in the Corporate Average Fleet Economy scheme. The PT Cruiser was listed as a truck for that reason. If you want to see more cars than truck sold, the CAFE perversion has to be changed.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        If you want to see more cars sold, make them look and drive like CUVs.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          “If you want to see more cars sold,”

          import them to the US from Asia or India where they can be made cheaper, and sell them through a Big Box store.

          The UAW with their demand for higher wages and ever-more benefits has succeeded in driving up the cost of cars in the US to the point that they are overpriced and beyond the financial reach of many.

          Government regulations and mandates on behalf of the greendongs impose unnecessary expenses on cars.

          The American car dealer system is a rip off, designed to generate revenue for the State and inordinate amounts of profit for the dealers.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Most crossovers are either lifted hatches or wagons.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I’m surprised that fully 63% of BMW sales are still actual cars. I see X3s everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I’m seeing many X1s and X5s so I was a little bit surprised as well. Although I also know a gentleman with a 7 series sedan and an X5, but I just figured he’s a glutton for punishment.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I don’t understand why people would purchase the 7-Series these days over the S-Class. It’s quite inferior.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          They pretty much don’t, Corey.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Trying to decide the last year it was good, competitive, and the sporting option to the S. Probably 2002.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            2002.

            The year or the model?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            *rim shot*

            But I think the 01 7-Series is the last excellent looking BMW sedan. I meant to say 01 initially. 02 contains all the ruination.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            There has never been a reliable 7-Series, ever. The closest BMW ever came to making one was the six-cylinder versions of the E32.

            In contrast S-Classes have had reliability records ranging from acceptable to good, except for the one misstep of the W220.

            BMW has always struggled a bit with any car bigger than an E28.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          They’ve previously bought 5 3-series, 3 5-series, and a 6 series. As well as cosigned for 4 3 series for kids.

          While the “difference” between a 7 and an S is, in practice, below pretty much anyone’s threshold of concern, unless it is ones job to discern and make a big deal about it. Come to think of it, for the demands the typical 7/S customer places on his vehicle, ditto for the Avalon….

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      BMW is one of those car-heavy makers because the car-heavy makers don’t build (or don’t build enough) pickups and cargo vans.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Has to do with the gobs of 3/4 Series sold and BMW doesn’t have a full-size crossover (which is on the way) and the X3 and X5 are long in the tooth and will soon be replaced.

      Not surprisingly, the brands that have been most reliant on car sales and hindered by the lack of crossovers (either in models, supply or both) have been VW, Hyundai, Kia and Cadillac (the new CX-9 should lower Mazda’s car share % for the 2nd half of the year).

      Last year, H/K was even more reliant on car sales as they have only recently been able to increase supply of the their crossovers.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    My 74 year old mother drives the much lambasted on this site Jeep Patriot. Loves it, has AWD and a power lift gate for less than 20k new. She bought it a few years ago and has had zero issues. So for the haters, pound sand…(sarc) moving on
    I am sure the Patriot gets classified as a CUV etc, but to me this is a car, with a hatchback. As is a HR-V, Encore, Rav4, CR-V. The only driving difference is *some* have AWD, I will concede 50% or better but certainly not all. Do we consider a FWD Rav4 to be a CUV or a car with a small 1.5 inch lift?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      There is no distinction in CUV/SUV land between AWD/4×4 and FWD/RWD, all get lumped together in sales.

      My personal preference is if you are going to bother to purchase extra ground clearance and higher seating position you might as well get AWD/4×4.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I relish in my non-conformity.

  • avatar

    The x3 is proof you had the money, found the right brand and in the words of maxwell smart…”missed it by this much”.

    Two other items. The new trucks do not drive much differently than a car, and as much as I despise the x3, it will live on the NYC metro area third world roads much happer than a sport tuned car with low profiles. If you never get over 60 anyway …..

  • avatar
    TMA1

    CUV sales are proof that people don’t want cars with gunslit windows. Visibility and practicality are still more important to most people than style and a design that prioritizes pedestrian safety over ease of use for the owner.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Yes, but compare the first models of CUVs of about five years ago to current models. The designers are screwing it up with upswept side windows that come to a point and smaller rear windows that are so high you can’t see a small car right behind you. Pickup trucks still have tall windows, but the beds are so high you also can’t see a small car right behind you. I’m convinced that if you built a 1979 Chevy Malibu or Nova with modern underpinnings, people would buy it. Heck, there’s probably a market for a ’56 Bel Air too!

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      People like CUVs because of the higher seating position which gives the illusion of better visibility. Often the view out the back is worst then in a car. However rear view cameras are making this less of a problem these days. People also like the easy of entry instead of dropping down into a car. If people wanted practicality hatchbacks would be more popular. I think the visibility issue is caused by the very problem its solving: people in cars can’t see over all these CUV/SUVs on the road, thus they buy a CUV/SUV. Almost everyone I speak with that has bought an CUV recently said they feel safer up there, or its more comfortable. Visibility and practicality aren’t mentioned other then in terms of hauling things like kids or dogs.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    This is essentially backlash from the EPA forcing cars to almost scrape the ground and give up any sort of headroom or utility in the quest for maximum EPA-enforced MPG. The whole CUV thing is automakers and consumers getting around all those requirements that make cars the way they are compared to CUVs. If you (and the law) decide to treat CUVs like “cars” then consumers and automakers will just find another loophole.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      npaladin2000,
      You are correct. The EPA is making it harder to build cars and easier to build larger vehicles.

      CUVs are a great seller globally and are constantly improving in numbers, so I don’t see the need for biased regulations to promote them.

      The same can be said for pickups which have improved markedly as well. Market protection for locally produced pickups is greater than SUVs and CUVs. If they are so popular why doesn’t the government bring them into line with cars from a regulatory perspective. It’s that way here and from what I can see 20% of our vehicle sales are pickups. 75% of which are used as a car/CUV/SUV alternative.

      Overall the popularity of these vehicles seems to indicate they just don’t need any “favours” to prop them up in the market.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @BAFO – You’re talking 75% of “trucks”, including SUVs, CUVs, and also pickup, not 75% of pickups, which would be preposterous. I’m not sure why it’s so confusing for you. It must be the blinding rage.

        CUVs aren’t “promoted” buy the Feds, they’re just not subject to the Gas Guzzler tax. Of course that includes import or global CUVs just the same.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      It’s so convenient to be able to blame all of life’s problems on the government.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        I notice you’re not challenging the substantive facts of my allegation, only claiming that it’s easy to blame the government. Well, it’s especially easy when it’s true. ;)

  • avatar
    dougjp

    So by cancelling rather than producing a new generation of their high volume selling cars, both GM (Buick) and FCA want to reduce their already low percentage even further? Leaving then exposed to any change in buyer sentiment? Brilliant…..

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      They’re already exposed to “changing buyer sentiment.” It’s called reacting to market forces. Or in simpler words, giving the customers what they want. Which is CUVs. Because the “high volume” of cars keeps shrinking year over year. If customers aren’t going to buy them, it doesn’t make much sense to keep making them, does it? So you change the product mix.

      You seem to be advocating keeping a vast lot of sedans sitting around just in case gas prices spike and customers suddenly change their minds tomorrow and want them?

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Every Buick-GMC dealer I drive past has the front row filled with Enclaves, Terrains, Acadias, Sierras, and Yukons. LaCrosses and Regals are relegated to the inside/back row.

      • 0 avatar
        dougjp

        Not advocating that at all and it isn’t just a spike in gas prices that could do it. Certainly if they keep producing an excess VOLUME of those cars which ALSO retain the same semi-obsolete generation, without REAL improvement, with anemic engines too and/or excess weight. Add to all that the absence of marketing, or when there is marketing, the most useless kind.

        The reason I posted knowing the current sales numbers is the Honda Civic. Look at its sales percentage increases and its a car. Buick (Verano)and FCA (Dart and 200)are examples the same as that idiot in Britain, Nigel Farage. QUITTERS!

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Thanks for this article Tim. It really clarifies how the market is evolving and how the various groups are affected.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Tim, the article is completely correct, and I’m sure useful, but…
    Once I started thinking of CUV’s as hatchbacks with a mild lift I can’t stop thinking that cars are selling better than ever. Drawing the line between cars and trucks on the far side of CUV’s is an arbitrary decision only supported by the marketers attempts to brand their cars as trucks. If it’s built like a car, drives like a car, looks like a car… I’m not going to taste it, it’s just a car.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      This. How is the frumpy, dorky and capacious RAV4 not a hatchback car? Or the Escape, CR-V, Rogue… etc.

      They’re ’47 Chevys with a hatch and shortened snoot & wheelbase.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      The whole idea is to dodge the EPA regulations for “cars” and subject the vehicle to the less stringent rules for “trucks” instead.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        And yet they paradoxically drop their ride height and rear roof lines with each model generation to placate CAFE.

        I wish their safe haven of a “truck” loophole would let them stay tall, square and lifted.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here’s a question for our TTAC journo’s.

    Instead of just dropping in articles like you have, what about some investigative journalism that requires research! This will remove much of the “banter” that goes on. You guys can even use links to back up conclusions, etc.

    So, how and why can a PT Cruiser be deemed a “truck”, or for that matter even a Kia Sorento?

    Explain the differences in regulation between a car and “truck”, ie, FE standards, CAFE standards, emission standards. I do believe this will bring change to the site. Whilst TTAC has many articles open to interpretation due to ambiguity bickering and politics will be central to many comments.

    This will bring more respect to the authors as well.

    Even that article on fuel quality could also been a little more indepth.

    To me a Kia Sorento is just a wagon, as is most of these CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The “Gas Guzzler Tax” was only meant for cars with very poor fuel economy, mostly “land yachts” and muscle cars.

      “Trucks”, or fullsize pickups, are exempt from the “GGT” for obvious reasons. The “Truck” exemption included fullsize SUVs, fullsize vans and nothing else. Everything else was subject to the GGT.

      By 1991, the “Truck” exemption changed, and grew to include minivans, midsize SUVs and compact pickups. That was their cue to start growing too. Compare the typical late ’80s, to late ’90s or ’00s. Now the “Truck” exemption includes CUVs.

      It was the NHTSA battling CAFE. You can’t vastly improve passenger safety, without drastically increasing a car’s mass, weight and safety equipment.

      SUVs, CUVs and minivans are also “Trucks” for their family trucking capabilities. Remember the early ’80s “Wagon Queen, Family Truckster”?

  • avatar
    Joss

    Quite possibly electronic stability has eased the qualms of insurers & buyers from the days of Firestone & Ford…

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