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2016: Year of the Sports Utility Vehicle

Last year set two notable vehicle records. First, the most cars ever sold, at 17.54 million. Second, light trucks accounted for almost 61 percent of all sales. Sales of more fuel efficient car fell, though electric vehicle sales increased.
January 10, 2017, 1pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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"The strength of new 'car' sales was actually driven by light trucks, which reached a record 60.9 percent of all sales," reports Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic. Cheap gas, by historic standards, played a significant role.

Pickups and SUVs [led by crossovers] flew out of dealerships as fast as people could pump them full of affordable unleaded. Light truck sales leapt up 7.4 percent, even as traditional cars slumped by 8.9 percent in the face of the SUV onslaught.

Fuel economy and emissions

As a result of the major increase in SUV purchases and decrease in more efficient cars, "the average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in 2016 was 25.2 mpg, down 0.1 mpg from 2015," according to an email by Michael Sivak, director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, who referenced the group's latest data on vehicle fuel economy and emissions.

The drop in fuel economy translates to higher emissions. "The average new-vehicle driver produced 17% lower emissions in October 2016 than in October 2007, but 4% higher emissions than the record low reached last time in November 2015," Sivak adds.

Electric vehicle (EV) sales also set a record last year according to sales data provided by Jay Cole for Inside EVs.

In the United States, sales of all plug-in electrical vehicles (PEVs: any vehicle that has a plug and batteries so it can run on electricity, even if for only a short distance) was 159,139 last year, compared to 116,099 in 2015, an increase of 43,040 vehicles, or 37 percentNot bad considering the price of gas!

But how does this good news compare with the total amount of vehicles sold? Less than 1 percent (0.91 percent, to be precise), not so good, but compared to last year's PEV share of 0.66 percent, it's an increase of 38 percent!

At that rate of progress, will EVs become more mainstream in the near future? One thing that will make a difference would be a significant increase in oil prices, but that appears unlikely in the near term.

Hat tip to Michael Keenly.
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Published on Thursday, January 5, 2017 in The Drive
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