Sales of full-size SUVs in the US for the first four months of 2005 dropped 19% compared to the sales during the same period in 2004.
According to company reports, combined sales of full-size SUVs (models longer than 193 inches) dropped to 480,674 units during Jan-Apr 2005 from 593,035 units during the same period the year before. At the same time, overall light-duty vehicle sales in the US increased 1.2% to 5,384,275 for the period in 2005, up from 5,319,133 in 2004. Thus, the marketshare of full-size SUVs have dropped to 8.9% from 11.1% for those periods.
The company hit the hardest by this shift is GM, followed by Ford. Those two companies saw a combined drop in full-size SUV sales of almost 120,000.
The shift is certainly not uniform—both Chrysler and Nissan saw sales of their full-size models increase relatively strongly. But as you can see in the chart to the right (Click to enlarge), sales of models critical to GM and Ford plummeted.
GM held 56% of the market in full-size SUVs for the first four months of 2004, Ford 31%. Any further significant erosion in demand for the class will add to the financial woes of each (augmented by the fact that these have been the platforms with juicy margins in the past).
The US auto market isn’t “greening” overnight. Sales of light-duty trucks and SUVs still outpace cars. Despite the boom in hybrid sales (earlier post), combined hybrid sales through April of 54,103 is still only 11% of the full-size SUV sales for the same period.
But I think it’s safe to conclude that a shift is occuring. Automakers will now set out to capture those buyers who would have gone for a full-size SUV, want or need the size, but are looking for something a bit more fuel-efficient.
There are an increasing number of vehicles that meet that description: the Ford Escape Hybrid, the Lexus RX400h, the Jeep Liberty diesel, the coming Toyota Highlander hybrid. Expect to see a major push on diesel platforms over the next few years as a way of offering the heft and performance a large percentage of US drivers still want, but without the fuel burden of a gasoline platform.
(Chrysler is already looking to increase its Jeep diesel production, and BMW has announced that it will start offering diesels in the US in 2007, beginning with one of its SUVs.)
That said, these represent a relative improvement. The hybrid and diesels SUVs as currently designed are still large consumers of fuel—just better than their gasoline counterparts. There is still room for much more significant improvements...even in larger vehicles.