Trucks and SUVs began ramping up in popularity around 2010 when the price of oil dropped due to increased production. Over the past five years especially, pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers have been the vehicles of choice for many drivers.
As recently as last year, some people predicted that consumers would continue to buy these vehicles in the 2020s, and sedans would become an increasingly rare option. But a GM design chief believes the trend will shift back to cars. His insight into why buyers will make the switch may surprise you.
The demise of the passenger car?
When automakers recognized this trend, they responded by making SUVs and trucks even more appealing. They designed lighter trucks and SUVs, which improved their fuel economy somewhat. The ride and handling of some became more car-like. Amenities and safety features normally reserved for sedans became more common in many of these vehicles.
Over the past couple of years, manufacturers have slashed their offerings in sedans. For example, Ford dropped all of the passenger cars in its lineup with the exception of the Mustang. Fiat Chrysler phased out all of its sedans except for the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, and Dodge Challenger, as well as its Fiat and Alfa Romeo passenger cars.
GM discontinued models like the Chevy Cruze, Volt, and Impala as well as two Cadillac sedans. Buick presented a five-year plan to ditch sedans completely. It seemed like carmakers had taken a huge leap of faith based on this trend.
Long live the sedan
But GM Design Chief Michael Simcoe believes buyers’ focus will switch back to cars, according to GM Authority. Dan Sandberg, president and CEO of Brembo North America, interviewed Simcoe in September 2019. Simcoe’s prediction was a response to Sandberg’s question about the auto industry’s massive shift toward SUVs and pickups.
Although Simcoe acknowledged that SUVs dominate in North America, he felt that the lower seating positions used in cars are now appearing in SUVs. This may account for the popularity of CUVs, or crossovers, that give buyers the practicality of an SUV and the platform of a sedan.
The line that distinguishes SUVs and crossovers is becoming more and more blurred. The reason why, Simcoe said, is that content and appearance are no longer kept separate in the market.
Simcoe, who has a strong background in designing sedans for Holden and GM Asia, speculated that CUVs have replaced hatchbacks and sedans. But he ventured that sedans will return in popularity. Their electrification will also help to win back buyers.
What buyers really want
Simcoe’s key takeaway was not whether sedans or SUVs would win over future buyers. Instead, he said that people want a vehicle that makes a statement about them. It should high quality and have great stylings. All of these “wants” can still be met by the sedan body style.
Also, it turns out that some buyers never jumped from sedans to SUVs and trucks in the first place, according to a new Edmunds.com study cited by Motor1.com.
Instead of upgrading to an SUV or CUV, 42% of Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus owners switched to another small-car manufacturer. In many cases, they bought a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, both among the top 10 best-selling vehicles in the country.
Although there has been a lot of discussion about sedans fading into obscurity lately, U.S. buyers have scooped up 4.5 million of them so far this year. That’s not insignificant, and there may be even more buyers waiting to buy sedans.
An Edelman Intelligence survey, via the Detroit Bureau, indicates that millennials looking to buy their first car will consider a sedan. Nissan, Honda, and Hyundai have all picked up on this information and increased their sedan choices.
So, are Simcoe and the Edelman survey on target by anticipating a shift in buyers’ tastes back to sedans? The auto industry, like other sectors, moves in cycles, so we’ll have to wait and see. But Simcoe is right. Whether it’s a sedan, truck, or SUV, the vehicle in your driveway should be good-looking enough to be the envy of the neighborhood.