How Far and How Fast Has U.S. Passenger Car Market Share Fallen? So Far, and so Fast

how far and how fast has u s passenger car market share fallen so far and so fast
“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.”

New 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 and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Akear Akear on Aug 12, 2017

    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.

  • Jthorner Jthorner on Aug 13, 2017

    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!%$$%^*)&)&(*)(*&_!

    • Noble713 Noble713 on Aug 14, 2017

      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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  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
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