While every country has a high-selling car model or two, the USA has always been an exception: it has a whole culture that favors large cars. Do you know why that happens?
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How Popular are Big Cars in America?
If we consider the three best-selling models of pickup trucks, we get a staggering total of almost 1.4 million units sold only in this year so far. When it comes to SUVs, the three bestseller models reach a combined total of almost 840,000 units.
Pickups have decades of tradition in that region, especially the models developed by Ford, General Motors, and RAM. That impressive market performance is pretty much exclusive to the USA but, since it represents over a million units sold every year, it is still profitable for automakers to develop and update those trucks regularly.
When it comes to SUVs, that number seems low because it’s only a fraction. Since this category has become a global trend, there are so many models available that it has been divided into subcategories. Those almost 840,000 units only correspond to the three best-selling models considered “compact” in America, which is the equivalent of midsize or large models in other countries.
#1: Access to Cheap Gasoline in the Past
The golden era of the American automotive industry was the 1950s. The USA was prospering as a whole after WWII, and the population was in a spending mood. The country developed a culture of excesses, which ultimately affected cars in external size, internal space, and available engines.
After that time, several historical events had everything to change this culture but failed. The oil crisis of 1973 made people miss being able to use opulent cars; the first fuel-efficient cars made available there had unattractive design and poor aftermarket structure, so they had no emotional appeal, and the European models have always been expensive enough not to be competitive.
In practice, we can say that Americans have never ceased to love large cars; they have only made an effort to adapt to the circumstances and have always done that to the smallest possible extent.
Nowadays, recent events are expected to make that change over the next years. Gas prices go up and down, but this time people are developing a stronger concern about the topic. Besides, there are more electric models available than ever and their capabilities are already surpassing those of gas models in some aspects.
#2: Strong Preference for Car Trips
The USA is a large country and has an excellent infrastructure of roads and highways. They make part of people’s commute, since many families live in the suburbs, but are also their favorite way to travel on vacation because they often plan scenic routes for sightseeing.
Having that in mind, it is essential to have a car with plenty of room for many people and their cargo. Families are used to driving their children to their routine activities, so they usually carry gear and toys all the time. When it comes to the trips, the longer they stay on the road, the more provisions they will obviously need to take.
Families who live in the suburbs also tend to buy at huge supermarkets with low frequency, so they have to stock up. The only way to do that is by having a car with a large trunk. Basically, the very lifestyle of many American people makes them prefer large cars.
#3: Automakers’ Reactions Over Time
As mentioned earlier, Americans were initially forced away from large cars because of the oil crisis. The industry offered them new options, but it was difficult to adapt to frugality so fast. Every time the market gave them a chance, they would run back to their beloved large cars.
Besides all that, every time gas prices went down again, market demand would take a sharp turn to large cars back again. The only way the industry could react was to keep developing and updating those models for the USA. In fact, even foreign automakers participated in that; Nissan, Honda, and Toyota, for example, have developed several ones exclusively for that region.
More recently, advancements in technology have greatly improved cars’ fuel efficiency, so the urge to switch to smaller cars has stabilized over the past few years. That succession of events has made it easy for Americans to preserve their preference for large cars and pickups even nowadays.
That has only shown real signs of change in the past few years. More and more people are concerned with the environmental impact of big cars, not to mention the increasing prices of fuel. As a result, not only are they embracing electric propulsion, but also considering the change to smaller cars than they used to choose.
What are the Most Popular Big Cars in America?
Ford F-Series is simply the most popular automobile of all types in America. When it comes to SUVs, the Toyota Highlander is the current bestseller considering all subcategories. Finally, the Toyota Camry is leading the market among urban cars (like sedans, hatchbacks, etc.).
Ford’s line of pickup trucks has sold over 534,000 units during this year so far. Besides the maker’s long tradition with this type of automobile, an important reason for such a number is the number of variations in which you can get it: there are different models (like F-150, F-250…), cab types (single, crew…), bed lengths, engines, and trim levels.
When it comes to the Highlander, variety is much smaller. The strongest reason why this model sells well is simply giving what people want: large space for up to seven people, powerful engines, a touch of fuel-efficiency thanks to the hybrid powertrain, and competitive prices. Add Toyota’s reputation of reliability, and you explain the 207,000 units sold so far in 2021.
The same reputation also helps the Camry, of course. However, the sedan is also appealing to Americans for its style, which is getting slightly sportier with every generation; powertrains, which feature many fuel-saving technologies; and equipment packages, which follow the category’s standards.
Why Does the Rest of the World Prefer Smaller Cars?
In Europe, the number of narrow streets in most cities is the main reason. In Japan, we can mention high populational density. In Latin America, the overall need to drive down prices is to blame, and so on. The answer depends very much on each country.
Cars have become an important part of society, so they exert influence over people and suffer their influence at the same time.
Variables such as economic scenario, political decisions, and people’s history and culture play a major role in what manufacturers and what models will have strong demand in each region. Just like Americans enjoy large cars above any other type, people from other regions have different preferences, as mentioned in the beginning.
Having that in mind, saying that the rest of the world prefers smaller cars would be a generalization. It is more appropriate to have in mind that the different situation of each country makes the respective population have different preferences as well when it comes to cars.