Mon | Mar 30, 2020

SUVs are the hottest selling vehicles

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2020 | 12:21 AM

The nation’s SUV boom continued into 2020, leaving little oxygen for passenger cars – with one major exception.

While most of the hottest vehicles in the auto market are SUVs, perhaps the hottest of them all was a plain, old-fashioned compact car.

Minus the old-fashioned.

The Tesla Model 3 electric compact car soared in 2019, establishing itself as the best-selling luxury vehicle in the US. That feat alone is enough to get it on our list of the hottest-selling vehicles of the year.

But the Model 3 has also become one of the best-selling passenger cars of any kind in America.

While Tesla doesn’t provide a breakdown of sales by country, the company sold nearly 159,000 in the US last year, according to estimates by InsideEVs, which tracks electric car sales.

At that level, the Model 3 was less popular than the Toyota Camry, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Honda Civic but more popular than the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Chevrolet Malibu.

Tesla is also benefiting from resilience in the market for luxury vehicles, said George Augustaitis, director of automotive industry and economic analysis for car-buying site CarGurus.

“Even though the total market was down slightly, this is 10 years straight of luxury sales growth,” he said.

Here’s our list of the hottest-selling vehicles based on last year’s figures. (This subjective list is based on an analysis of sales trends, buzz, and industry analysis.)

1. Tesla Model 3

Sales increased sequentially every quarter for the year, rising to 92,550 in the fourth quarter. To be sure, the company didn’t sell all of those vehicles in the US. About half were sold in other markets – namely Europe. And the first nearly 1,000 vehicles made at the company’s newly opened China factory in the fourth quarter were sold in that country.

Still, the Model 3 has established itself as one of the most popular passenger cars in America, which is particularly impressive since it often sells for more than $50,000.

2. Ram pickup

In nothing less than a tectonic shift for the American auto industry, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Ram pickup has officially surpassed General Motors’ Chevrolet Silverado to become the industry’s second-best-selling pickup and its second best-selling vehicle overall.

And it wasn’t that close. GM sold 575,600 units of the Silverado in 2019 compared with the Ram’s 633,694 units.

The Ford F-series pickup remains the best-selling vehicle of any kind by a long shot with sales of 894,526 in 2019. That’s not changing any time soon.

But the Ram’s surge after a major redesign has been a remarkable feat in a segment whose buyers are famously loyal. Sure, Ram has risen to the top in part due to lower pricing than the Silverado. And yes, GM sells more pickups when you count the Silverado’s sibling, the GMC Sierra, as well as the mid-size Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups.

But volume matters. And the Ram pickup led the Ram brand to its all-time high sales mark of 703,023 vehicles in 2019.

Augustaitis said Ram attracted buyers with its affordability and straight-forward features, while GM might’ve turned off some buyers with extra technology in its redesigned Silverado that they didn’t want to pay for.

3. Porsche Cayenne

Porsche is known for its sports cars, but the brand is increasingly hitching its wagon to SUVs. The transformation has been led in part by the Cayenne, which is now the luxury brand’s second-best-seller in America.

In fact, the Macan and Cayenne SUVs made up 68% of Porsche’s sales in 2019, reflecting the significance of larger vehicles for a brand once exclusively identified with cars like the 911.

The Volkswagen luxury brand is a textbook example of how automotive brands can remake themselves to adjust to the changing marketplace without losing their core identity. A recent redesign has made a big difference, too.

4. Kia Telluride

This made-from-scratch, three-row SUV is already a hit for Kia, which badly needed a big-time SUV after sales of its passenger-car-heavy line-up slumped. The Telluride has been on sale for less than a year, but it’s already turning heads.

Demand for the US-made Telluride “continues to outpace model supply,” Kia said recently in a statement.

The three-row SUV even garnered MotorTrend’s coveted SUV of the Year award last November. The vehicle also won a 2020 Innovation Award for design by car-buying site TrueCar and its subsidiary ALG.

The vehicle is also drawing strong search traffic for a new vehicle, according to CarGurus.

“It really came on strong, it’s a great vehicle, has great marketing,” Augustaitis said.

5. Hyundai Kona

Talk about just in time.

With Hyundai dealers desperate for anything but another passenger car, the automaker finally delivered.

The Kona is a brand-new small crossover that provides a higher stance, and roomier interior, but similar wheelbase as its car cousins. And it’s affordable for people who might otherwise buy a small car.

The vehicle, named 2019 North American Sport Utility of the Year, has performed so well that it might be stealing some sales from its showroom colleague, the Sonata compact car, whose sales fell 17% to 87,466 in 2019.

6. Subaru Ascent

Didn’t think Subaru could capitalize on the SUV boom? Think again.

The traditionally car-focused brand is hitting a home run with the Ascent. This three-row SUV is riding Subaru’s hot streak and now contributing to it as well. After debuting in 2018, the Ascent has established itself as the brand’s fourth-best-seller.

“The Ascent has been a tremendous success for our brand,” Subaru US CEO Tom Doll said in a recent statement. “The three-row SUV offers the utility today’s customers are seeking and fills a void that had been missing from our line-up for many years.”

7. Ford Expedition

Redesigned in 2018, the three-row Expedition is on a roll.

This is a good example of how SUVs are getting bigger and attracting larger audiences as they grow. This vehicle has been lengthened by nine inches since 2009, and it’s clearly clicking.

8. Chevrolet Trax

Perhaps one of the biggest developments in the car industry over the last two years has been the death of the car. GM, for example, has killed most of its passenger cars, including the Chevy Cruze, Buick Regal and Cadillac CTS.

But the reality is that small crossover utility vehicles are basically just passenger cars that ride a little higher. Case in point: the Chevy Trax subcompact crossover.

This is a very small vehicle. But in part because it’s got a higher stance than the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, its sales are more than eight times higher than the Sonic’s.