Hummers are no longer made, but SUV popularity has returned.
Witness the revival of popularity of gas-guzzling, CO2 spewing SUVs. You may have thought the concept was on its way out when the Hummer breathed its last in 2009. Not so - of late SUV sales are experiencing a surge, most especially in China.
"Ford consistently touts the growth in sales of its energy-efficient cars, and there's a kernel of truth to that. But lately, the company's SUVs have been driving its sales growth." - Avi Salzman, Barron's September 13, 2011
According to Salzman's figures, Ford's U.S. sales of the Explorer SUV have quadrupled when compared to a year ago. Ford's car sales have risen 21.9%, truck sales have grown 8.5%, and SUV sales have grown 29.7%.
And if Americans love their SUVs, China's booming car consumers love them even more. Over one million SUVs were sold in the Chinese market within the last year, the first time that SUV sales have topped a million units.
Compared to that, Nissan's global sales of the Leaf all-electric vehicle - just over 6,000 since its introduction - seem truly paltry in comparison. Toyota is one of the only major car manufacturers not enjoying a boon from SUVs great sales figures - but Toyota is having a tough year overall, with Prius sales also flagging. The Chinese car buyer seems to flee from the Prius.
SUV sales currently represent about 10% of the overall Chinese vehicle market, about 15% of the European market, and a whopping 25% of the American market. Some observers say technology is continuing to green SUVs, and that U.S. CAFE standards (54.5 mpg by 2025) will improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Ford has fine-tuned its EcoBoost engine and added more aerodynamic styling for Explorers, for example.
There is a perplexing counter-statistic to the returning popularity of SUVs. While they are buying more cars, and especially more SUVs, Americans continue to drive less. According to the U.S. Transportation Department, Americans drove 15.5 billion fewer mile in the first half of 2011 -- causing roadway use to fall to its lowest level since 2004.
So perhaps we're in the last gasp of the gas-guzzling SUV, but it appears America's love of the SUV form factor is alive and well.