The auto industry has fully recovered to pre-recession highs of 2007—at least in one segment.
And that vehicle type, according to Erich Merkle, Ford's U.S. sales analyst speaking to members of the New England Motor Press Association this week, is the "small utility" segment—including the company's Escape, which is the top overall utility seller in the country. Small SUVs and crossovers sold 800,000 in 2000 but have burgeoned to more than 1.7 million units in 2011.
Ford's consumer research, Merkle says, looks to continued growth of the small utility segment (now 14% of the market) as about 80 million baby boomers in the U.S. enter retirement and many of their children (about the same number of so-called millennials) start families. The former are empty nesters and want smaller cars but utility, and the latter need larger vehicles—a sort of convergence of needs. "Utilities have good access for boomers and for millennials putting in baby seats, etc," adds Merkle.
He notes another trend in the auto industry—the downsizing of each type of vehicle. In other words, today's passenger cars, SUVs, etc. are smaller than previous generations—and these cars are more fuel efficient than before.
Merkle also reports the days of consumer allegiance to a particular brand of cars are over, "People aren't brand loyal anymore since there are so many great cars out there."
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