So far this year, cars have accounted for 47.4% of U.S. sales, according to data from WardsAuto. Analyst Haig Stoddard forecasts light trucks will outsell cars for the foreseeable future. “Going forward, if cars can stay below 50%, it’s a good economic barometer,” Stoddard said.
The Detroit Free Press reported that pickup sales continue to rebound with the housing industry. “As long as the economy keeps growing, pickups will be strong,” Stoddard said. And a seemingly insatiable appetite for crossovers is a sign that consumers have disposable income and are upgrading their purchase. Conversely, cars tend to be the most affordable body style and get the best gas mileage, so their sales reflect a weaker economy or high gas prices.
The fallen status of cars represents a structural shift in the industry, but perhaps not an ominous one.
Analysts say car sales are not declining because the offerings are poor. The consensus is today’s cars — including the lineups from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which are heavily weighted on trucks and utility vehicles — are the strongest and most competitive in years. Gone are the days when small cars from the Detroit Three were loss leaders to lure buyers to the brand in the hopes they would replace them with profitable models. And once Chrysler introduces a new 200, the domestics will all have credible midsize cars on the market.
“We’re always one gas shock away from people moving back to cars,” said Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford.
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