DEARBORN - Consumers have traditionally associated all-wheel drive with large SUVs and pickup trucks, but a new breed of more efficient and affordable all-wheel- drive systems is showing up in unexpected segments such as midsize sedans, helping fuel demand for vehicles equipped with the technology.
Ford is among the biggest beneficiaries of this trend. U.S. retail registrations of all-wheel-drive Ford passenger cars and utility vehicles tripled between 2009 and 2013, soaring 189 percent, with strong demand in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.
For the same period, industry all-wheel-drive sales grew 79 percent, based on Ford’s analysis of new vehicle registration data from Polk (recently acquired by IHS.) Industry sales of all passenger cars and utilities increased 53 percent. In 2013, vehicles equipped with all-wheel drive accounted for 23 percent of the industry, a 4 percentage point increase from 19 percent in 2009.
“All-wheel-drive sales continue to outpace the industry overall,” said Erich Merkle, Ford sales analyst. “But Ford all-wheel-drive sales are increasing faster than the industry in large part due to the success of our newer utilities and passenger cars that offer it.
“Escape and Explorer sold exceptionally well last year,” said Merkle. “That bumped our numbers. But if you look at Fusion, it’s the only midsize sedan among the top five best-selling that even offers all-wheel drive.”
AWD Driving Growth in Northeast and Pacific Northwest
The appeal of fuel efficient and affordable all-wheel-drive systems is helping Ford grow sales and gain share in regions such as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, markets that have largely preferred import brands over the last few decades.
In the Northeast, Ford’s retail share of passenger car and utility registrations increased 2 percentage points, to 8 percent, between 2009 and 2013. All-wheel-drive passenger cars and utilities account for 30 percent of Ford’s overall growth in the region since 2009.
In the Pacific Northwest, Ford’s retail share of the passenger car and utility market grew to 9 percent last year, up 2 percentage points since 2009 and Ford’s highest retail share of the segment since 2004. All-wheel-drive vehicles represent 23 percent of Ford’s overall growth in the Pacific Northwest.
In the small utility segment, all-wheel drive is the No. 1 reason for purchase consideration in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
The Ford Escape small utility and Fusion midsize sedan achieved record retail market shares in the Northeast last year, fuelled by demand for all-wheel-drive models. Escape’s retail share of the small utility segment rose from 8 percent in 2009 to 10 percent in 2013. Fusion’s retail share of the midsize segment increased to just over 8 percent last year, up from just under 7 percent in 2009.
Ford’s intelligent all-wheel-drive technology—mostly invisible to the driver until sensors detect slippery conditions—monitors road surfaces 20 times faster than the blink of the human eye.
During normal driving, power is efficiently channelled to the front wheels. But when road conditions demand it, sensors and software combine to quickly distribute power between the front and rear wheels for better traction and control.