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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