Sway Control – Truck & SUV Boom, What’s Different Now
Will the Truck and SUV Boom Crash Again?
The last few years have been good ones for us here at Truck Trend. Truck and SUV sales have been setting records month after month, quarter after quarter, and brands that previously had nonexistent SUV offerings now have multiple models from small to large to fill nearly every conceivable niche. About eight years ago, the national average for a gallon of gasoline was near $4.00. Suddenly, used car lots were flooded with gas-guzzling SUVs and used Toyota Prius hybrids were going for higher prices than new.
Some drivers stuck with their hybrids after the gas bubble burst, but many went back to their beloved SUVs as soon as it became more economically feasible. Between 2009 and 2014, gas prices remained high by historical standards, but within the last few years, the average price for a gallon of gas is back near where it was in 2007, the last hurrah of the former SUV heyday before the economy tanked.
Helping the genre maintain relevance, the very nature of the SUV market has shifted dramatically from where it was a decade ago, toward more efficient designs. The top-selling models are now predominantly car-based, unibody and have transverse, four-cylinder powertrains. The best-selling SUV in the country is now a three-way race between the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. The Explorer is now essentially a crossover as well. The fullsize segment is far smaller in volume and importance than it used to be and is dominated by a single company, General Motors.
The automakers figured out they had a PR problem with SUVs a decade ago, with the prime culprit being their poor fuel economy. Hundreds of millions in engineering resources were poured into improving efficiency, with the payoff being near-parity of fuel economy between C-segment crossovers and midsize sedans, with even large SUVs attaining close to 20 mpg average fuel economy. And it’s not stopping there. Chevrolet surprised a lot of people announcing the ’18 Equinox would be offered with an inline-four turbodiesel estimated to achieve up to 40 mpg highway, a new high-water mark in the segment. Even Tesla, one of the most iconoclastic automotive brands in the last 10 years, realized that Americans like SUVs and introduced the Falcon-winged Model X. Within a few years, the company will unveil a smaller, more affordable, longer-range Model Y crossover.
The fullsize truck segment likewise is becoming much more economical, with 20 mpg highway becoming the minimum expectation in the half-ton class, even for top-of-the-line V-8s. With the entry of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, we’re approaching the 30 mpg mark, which may be met or surpassed within the next few years with new entries from Ford or GM.
So, are we headed for another bubble? I don’t think so. The key difference is the truck and SUV market has changed. There’s a much bigger focus on fuel economy than there was before. It’s tempting to assume that’s driven mostly by government mandates and regulation. However, most product developers and marketers say it’s driven just as much by customer demand. If we see a drop off in truck and SUV sales, it will be the entire auto market that goes down with it. The fuel economy delta between cars, trucks, and SUVs simply isn’t as significant as it once was.
Whether you’re an avid environmentalist or not, improved fuel economy is something we can all appreciate. Wouldn’t you rather have more of your paycheck go to your vacation, remodel, or kid’s education fund than in the tank and out the tailpipe?