Crossovers are now America's most popular type of vehicle, and 2014 is the first time that the combined crossover/SUV segment has outsold the traditional sedan.
A new study from IHS Automotive reveals that in 2014, 36.5 percent of all new vehicles registered were crossovers or SUVs, while 35.4 percent were sedans. That's compared to last year, when crossovers accounted for 33.9 percent of new-car sales and sedans took the top spot with 36.6 percent.
"Sedans have gone down slightly, but really the crossover has taken from everything," IHS analyst Tom Libby told Automobile. "It's a combination of the benefits of a car as well as the benefits of an SUV, all in one vehicle."
Libby said the largest growth has come from compact and subcompact crossovers, which are stealing buyers from nearly every other car segment. He said buyers appreciate the higher seating position and higher ground clearance of crossovers and SUVs, as well as the possibility for greater cargo space than a traditional sedan.
In fact, the IHS Automotive study shows crossovers and SUVs beating every other type of vehicle by a large margin. Coupes and convertibles, for instance, account for just 3.4 and 1.0 percent of new-car sales this year, respectively. Libby said that's partly because there are fewer models on sale, and partly due to changing consumer interests.
"There used to be these less-expensive convertibles from mainstream makes that were popular, especially among younger people," he said. "Now you see a lot of those young people driving crossovers."
As to the van segment, Libby said the group has declined because many buyers switched to crossovers. Manufacturers responded by killing off many minivan offerings, meaning more buyers moved to crossovers. He also doesn't see hatchbacks taking a big part of the U.S. sales segment; for the past five years, IHS Automotive data shows hatchbacks hovering around 5.0 to 6.6 percent of new-car sales.
"The hatchback has really been seen as sort of a derivative of the sedan," Libby said. "There is a perception in the industry that in the U.S. hatchbacks do not connect with the consumer."
Overall, Libby said IHS Automotive concludes that crossovers and SUVs are the most important vehicle segment for both buyers and automakers. "A manufacturer who is there with a competitive product is going to benefit," he said. "A brand that isn't there is going to fall behind."