Gaining Traction: Americans Shun Two-wheel Drive In Record Numbers

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
gaining traction americans shun two wheel drive in record numbers

Once upon a time, it was expected to find the driven wheels of a car aft of the rear seat. In this writer’s recollection, the coming of winter would see the addition of a few bags of concrete mix or sidewalk salt added to the trunk for extra traction. Most pickups, usually of the wholesome regular cab variety, boasted the same setup.

Eventually, front-wheel drive replaced RWD as the go-to way to put power down, while in the background four-wheel drive gathered steam.

Would it surprise you to learn that the majority of 2020 model-year vehicles sold in the U.S. thus far eschewed front- or rear-drive?

That seems to be the case, according to data compiled by JATO Dynamics. It’s no secret that SUVs and crossovers are now the default purchase of most Americans, and with that purchase comes — usually — the all-weather benefit of AWD or 4WD.

As of April, 50.8 percent of 2020MY vehicles sold in the country boasted such a system, JATO claims. If that figure holds for the remainder of the year, it would be the first time in history that a majority of American buyers took home a non-2WD vehicle in a given model year.

Last year came close, with U.S. buyers choosing AWD or 4WD to the tune of 49.4 percent. The trend is clear. For the 2018 model year, this figure was 47.3 percent. 2017? 42.3 percent. You’d only have to go back to 2016 to see a figure lower than 40 percent. Those were long-ago times.

Helping the four-wheel-grip cohort in JATO’s calculations is the pesky coronavirus; as U.S. sales plunged in mid-March, passengers cars fell faster and harder than pickups, which retained much of their pre-pandemic buoyancy. Detroit Three automakers were quick to unleash incentives and zero-interest/84-month financing, keeping full-size pickup volume afloat. According to J.D. Power data, even during the depths of the lockdown (late March/early April), retail sales of full-size pickups never fell more than 25 percent below pre-virus projections.

And what retail buyer takes home a 2WD pickup these days?

This segment also recovered faster than others, bolstering the AWD/4WD group’s take rate in 2020MY stats. Compact cars are still struggling to return to normal, while small and midsize SUVs have come closer to regaining their earlier volumes.

Given this trend, as well as how close last year came to the 50-percent threshold, it would be easy for the transfer case crowd to pull off a majority win once everything’s said and done.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler, Subaru]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 17, 2020

    Americans want eternal life and they are willing to pay anything to buy it. That's why health care costs continue to climb and AWD is so popular. And who could raise a child without a baby monitor, and soon a cell phone in their hands? As a society, we'll pay anything for just a little more insurance against harm. Airport security measures are another example. The demand for AWD has little to do with driving, and everything to do with our insatiable desire for security.

    • Lie2me Lie2me on May 17, 2020

      Maybe that explains the uptick in sales of AWD vehicles. The world isn't a very secure place at the moment, but my car can be

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on May 17, 2020

    This should confirm the reasons behind having a lockdown to combat the spread of the virus. A video made by a hospital in the Greater Toronto Area. And an article about it. Hopefully the link stays, if it does not just Google. CBC Makrham-Stouffville Hospital look inside the ICU, April 30th 2020. The vast majority of frontline healthcare workers are firm in their belief that the lockdown was and is required. This includes doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, cleaning staff, and the group most at risk to contract COVID the PSW's. They were and are still working under extreme emotional trauma. The hospital where this was filmed just announced that 7 of their staff, in have tested positive. The Chief Medical Officer for York Region (where the hospital is located), Dr Kurji has stated in a video released by the region, supporting the lockdown that “Every case we prevent also prevents 60 to 100 cases down the road.”

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  • ToolGuy You make them sound like criminals.