Americans bought more pickups than non-luxury cars in 2020 – the first year that ever happened. Americans ‘growing love of pickups and automakers’ ever-growing list of truck listings get some of the credit for this. Another factor could ultimately prove to be more important: passenger cars are simply disappearing.
First, the data – According to Cox Automotive (parent company of Kelley Blue Book), Americans bought 2,934,706 pickups in 2020. They only bought 2,831,053 non-luxury passenger cars. SUV sales dwarfed both numbers. 5,977,973 buyers took home a new sport-utility or a new crossover.
The trend is unlikely to reverse in 2021. The Kelley Blue Book quarterly Brand Watch study, which examines more than 12,000 car buyers to determine what influences their buying decisions, recently found that more buyers were considering buying a pickup truck for the first time than a car ever in the fourth Quarter of 2020.
Second, the likely reasons – The number and variety of pickup trucks available to American car buyers has increased dramatically in recent years.
More trucks arrive
The full size pickup truck is well served by its traditional competitors. The twins Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado / GMC Sierra are still battling for the sales title (the Ford usually wins unless you count GM’s two nearly identical trucks as a single model). The Ram range, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Titan each claim enough sales to stay competitive.
Even those looking to brag about a performance car can now opt for a truck – the dogfight between Ram’s 702-horsepower TRX and Ford’s desert-racing wonder of suspension technology, the Raptor, is only heating up.
In the smaller truck market, buyers now have more choices than they are used to. After years of ceding that floor to Toyota’s Tacoma and Nissan’s Frontier, domestic manufacturers have reinstated the smaller truck market. The Ford Ranger re-entered the market in 2019 and is now in second place behind the Tacoma for most months. GM’s Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon twins are also performing well. The Jeep Gladiator hit the market in 2020 with its Wrangler-influenced design and off-road chops. And the Honda Ridgeline, which has a more car-friendly ride thanks to its solid SUV-style frame, offers a comfortable option for those less likely to drive their truck off-road.
In the new year, the medium-sized truck market will be expanded to include additional innovations. Hyundai is expected to unveil its first pickup truck, the Santa Cruz, before the end of the year.
Cars are disappearing
Cars meanwhile? They go away.
There is a veritable graveyard of non-luxury passenger cars that have disappeared from the market in the past three years. The Chevy Cruze, Impala and Sonic. Buick LaCrosse, Regal and Verano. Dodge darts. Kia Cadenza and K900. Honda fit. Ford Fusion. Volkswagen Golf. The list goes on.
In fact, data from Cox Automotive shows that Ford’s best-selling car last month was the Mustang for the first time … because there are no other Ford cars. The Ford Focus, Fusion, Taurus and all other sedans and coupes have been discontinued. Only the Mustang and the incredibly low-volume GT supercar are left.
SUVs are now America’s favorite family car. They will probably even become more car-friendly. The best-selling sports machine in America in 2020 was the Toyota RAV-4, which was built on the same platform as the Corolla sedan and Prius electric vehicle. The second best seller was the Honda CR-V, which also shares most of its base with the Civic sedan. And the North American commercial vehicle of 2021 was the Ford Mustang Mach-E, a fully electric crossover that shares just as much DNA with sports sedans as it does with traditional SUVs.
Electric vehicles will accelerate the trend
The arrival of electric vehicles on a large scale is likely to hasten the death of the non-luxury passenger car. Electric cars offer design options that combustion-powered cars do not, as most of their mechanical parts fit neatly under the floor without the need for a traditional engine bay in the front. This has led designers to introduce many electric vehicles that functionally look like small SUVs and make the most of their enlarged cabin space by dispensing with the traditional cabin and trunk layout of passenger cars. We expect up to 100 electric vehicles to be on the market by the end of 2021. However, they are more similar to the VW ID.4 or the Hyundai Ioniq 5, both essentially small crossovers, than the more traditional Tesla Model 3.
Americans seem to be more interested in trucks and SUVs than they are in passenger cars, as the 2020 sales figures show. And the market reacts. This increasingly means that passenger cars are simply leaving the scene.
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