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. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/markham-stouffville-hospital-icu-covid-19-1.5539212 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.”

  • Jim Bonham Full EVs are not for everyone, they cannot meet all needs. Hybrids do a much better job of providing the benefits of EVs without most of the drawbacks. I have a hybrid sedan with plenty of room, plus all the bells and whistles. It has 360 hp, AWD, does 0-60 in just over 5 sec.(the instant torque is a real benefit), and I get 29 mpg, average. NOT driven lightly. I bought it used for $25k.Sure, it's a little heavier because of the battery, motor, etc., but not nearly as much as a full EV. The battery is smaller/lighter/cheaper and both the alternator and starter motor are eliminated since the motor assumes those functions. It's cool to watch the charge guage show I'm getting energy back when coasting and/or braking. It's even cooler to drive around part of the time on battery only. It really comes in handy in traffic since the engine turns off and you don't waste fuel idling. With the adaptive cruise control you just let the car slowly inch along by itself.I only wish it were a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). Then, I'd have A LOT more EV-only range, along with even more of that instant torque. The battery would be bigger, but still a fraction of the size of a full EV. I could easily go weeks without using much, if any gas (depending upon my commute) IF I plug it in every night. But I don't have to. The gas engine will charge the battery whenever it's needed.It's just not as efficient a way to do it.Electric companies offer special rates for both EVs and PHEVs which lower your operating cost compared to gasoline. They'll even give you a rebate to offset the cost of installing a home charger. You can still get federal (up to $7,500, plus some state) tax credits for PHEVs.What's not to like? My next daily driver will be a PHEV of some kind. Probably a performance-oriented one like the new Dodge Hornet or one of the German Hybrid SUVs. All the benefits, sound, feel, etc., of a gas vehicle along with some electric assist to improve fuel economy, performance, and drivability. None of the inherent EV issues of cost, range anxiety, long charging times, poor charger availability, grid capacity issues, etc. I think most people will eventually catch on to this and go PHEV instead of going full EV. Synthetic, carbon-neutral eFuels, hydrogen engines, and other things will also prevent full EVs from being 100% of the fleet, regardless of what the politicians say. PHEVs can be as "clean" (overall) as full EVs with the right fuels. They're also cheaper, and far more practical, for most people. They can do it all, EVs can't.
  • Ron rufo there is in WaSHINGTON STATE
  • ToolGuy @Chris, your photography rocks.
  • ToolGuy No War for Oli.If you have not ever held a piece of structural honeycomb (composite sandwich) in your own hands, try it.
  • ToolGuy You make them sound like criminals.
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