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Where the Streets Have No Name

John Eichberger |
July 9, 2018

Remember growing up? For some of us, that is getting more difficult but one of the hallmarks for many kids was the family road trip. Summer was coming and we just knew Mom and Dad had a great idea – let’s go drive to [some forsaken place] and see [who cared what]. As I think back to visiting Death Valley in July (yeah, great idea!) or driving from California to Nebraska to see the family, my mind always brings up Chevy Chase and Clark Griswold.  It was time to load up the Family Truckster and take to the road – and I always knew it would not take long before the streets literally had no names.

“I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.”
(One of my favorite U2 songs and one of the most iconic videos from the 80s,)

Well, a lot has changed since the road trips of the 70s and 80s and I wonder if families still take these long road trips.  Apparently, they do.

According to a NACS consumer survey taken in May 2018, the popularity of the summer road trip remains strong.  In fact, 68% of consumers surveyed said there were likely to take a trip this summer and 86% of them were excited about it. (I wonder if the kids were asked their opinion.) But more impressive is that 85% of those planning to take a trip were planning to travel by car and 32% expected to spend more than 12 hours behind the wheel. Even more shocking is that 69% of those surveyed said that “traveling to my destination is often as fun as the actual vacation.”  Seriously, they did not ask Rusty or Audrey Griswold.

All that said, however, I suspect there is one major difference between the trips we and the Griswolds took and the trips families are taking today – they have traded in that Family Truckster for a utility-based vehicle.

The New Family Truckster

In fact, according to the latest Transportation Energy Institute report, “Driving Vehicle Sales – Utility, Affordability and Efficiency,” 35% of the light duty vehicles sold in America in 2017 were cross-utility vehicles (CUVs).  This represented a jump from 10% market share in 2003 and reflects an evolving consumer preference that has elevated these vehicles at the expense of most others. In this same time frame, nearly all other classes of vehicles lost market share.

The market reaction to satisfying consumer demand has been swift. In 2017, there were 93 separate varieties of CUVs sold in the U.S., not including trim or powertrain varieties. So why have CUVs gained so much popularity?  Quite simply they deliver what the consumer is seeking.

CUVs provide additional space for family, cargo and luggage in an attractive design. They provide a higher ride profile similar to a sport utility vehicle (SUV), but because they are built on car frame instead of a truck frame, they offer a ride quality similar to a mid-size car.

Financially, they fit the bill too. Consumers have consistently told the Transportation Energy Institute that cost and fuel efficiency are primary considerations when purchasing a vehicle. CUVs offer many of the same attributes of an SUV but often sell for more than $10,000 less and on average deliver 35% more miles per gallon.  In fact, CUVs rank only slightly behind mid-size and small cars in terms of fuel efficiency and have improved their efficiency by more than 18% since 2012.

The Myth of the Truck Culture

Because many CUVs are classified as light trucks, their popularity has spurred assumptions that Americans are addicted to trucks. When in fact, the market share for pickup trucks and SUVs combined for just 24% of the market in 2017 and remain below peak levels. Pickup truck sales in 2017 totaled 2.74 million units and accounted for 16% of the market compared with 3.18 million and 19% of the market in 2005. Meanwhile, SUVs have seen their market share cut in half. In 2017, the U.S. sold 1.39 million SUVs for 8% market share compared with 2.86 million and 19% market share in 2003. By contrast, CUVs sold nearly 6 million units for a 35% share of the market.

Bottom line is that Americans have found “cars” that better fit their needs in the form of CUVs.  It is safe to say that the station wagon is a relic of the past and trends lead me to believe the consumer is not looking back. Further, it is generally expected that CUV dominance in the market will grow and take over the used car market.

According to the Cox Automotive 2018 Used Car Market Report & Outlook, there is expected to be 39.5 million used cars sold in 2018 and 3.9 million of those are coming off lease. According to the report, in recent years the product mix of vehicles being leased has shifted from small cars to CUVs, SUVs and pickups. This means that a larger share of quality, “gently used” three-year old CUVS will be available to consumers. This could pull some new car buyers into the used car market, but the impact on CUV market dominance I believe will only be strengthened.

If You Get Hip to this Kind of Trip

The table is set – Americans will be driving affordable, efficient and useful CUVs for a long time to come. Maybe, if they were traveling in this type of vehicle the Griswolds would not have had such a difficult time. For example, many CUVs are equipped with four-wheel drive – so, when Clark drove off the highway they may have been able to drive right back to the road. And, because most modern bumpers are flush with the car, there is no place around the bumper to tie anything, avoiding a very disturbing element of the movie.

So, if you are among the families who enjoy road trips, take that new generation truckster out on the open road and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds:

“I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name.”

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