Why Americans Love SUVs & Trucks

The dominance of SUVs and trucks isn’t just a trend in the U.S., it’s a transformation that has reshaped the landscape of American transportation.

But why, you might ask, has the land of sedans and wagons turned into a kingdom of giants?

The answer lies in a story that’s as much about culture and comfort as it is about policy and economics.

The Shift from Sedans to SUVs

Since 1975, the landscape of American roads has dramatically shifted. Traditional passenger cars have given way to the towering presence of SUVs and trucks, which astonishingly accounted for over 80% ¹ of new vehicle sales in October 2021, a trend that has only continued.

This seismic shift isn’t merely a matter of taste; it’s the culmination of a 50-year-old policy, evolving consumer preferences, and strategic corporate decisions.

In 2010, the split between cars and larger vehicles was nearly even, but by 2021, 78.5% ² of new vehicles sold were SUVs or trucks. This change reflects not just Americans’ preference for larger vehicles but also the economic and marketing strategies of automakers.

They’ve prioritized these high-profit vehicles, especially amid recent production challenges, and longer car loans have made these expensive choices more accessible to consumers.

As a result, companies like Ford have phased out regular cars, focusing instead on the more lucrative SUVs and trucks, a strategy mirrored by many in the industry.

The Cultural & Infrastructural Backbone of Big Car Dominance

Preference for larger vehicles isn’t surprising in a country where roads are wide, parking is plentiful, and homes often come with generous driveways.

The desire is deeply ingrained in the American way of life.

The comfort, perceived safety, and utility of big cars make them an attractive choice. Yet, it’s not just about what Americans want; it’s also about what’s made available to them.

The Policy that Paved the Way for SUVs & Trucks

pickup truck dp25648325
Image Credit:farflungfotos/DepositPhotos.

In the 1970s ³, the U.S. faced an oil crisis that drastically changed the automotive industry. The government’s response, mandating more fuel-efficient cars, applied mainly to passenger vehicles, not “light trucks.”

This regulatory gap allowed automakers to pivot towards SUVs, a less regulated and more profitable sector. By the mid-2010s, the decline in car sales accelerated, with companies like Ford and Volkswagen almost entirely shifting to these larger vehicles.

This shift was further fueled by longer car loans, making expensive SUVs more accessible, and a prioritization of high-profit vehicles amid production challenges. The result was a dramatic increase in SUV and truck dominance, reshaping the American automotive landscape.

The Unintended Consequences of Bigger Cars

The preference for larger vehicles has significant downsides. As vehicles grew heavier by over 10% between 2000 and 2019, the pedestrian fatality rate rose by 30% ⁴.

Larger vehicles, especially SUVs, not only consume more fuel and emit more pollutants but also pose a greater risk to pedestrians. Their higher front ends and increased weight mean more severe impacts, often on vital body parts, leading to higher mortality and injury rates.

Despite these alarming trends, the shift towards larger, more imposing vehicles continues unabated, raising concerns about environmental sustainability and pedestrian safety.

Is Change Possible?

While younger generations and environmental activists are pushing for change, the road ahead is fraught with cultural, economic, and political obstacles. The U.S. may never become a “small car country,” but understanding the forces behind this shift is the first step toward a more balanced and sustainable automotive future.

In the end, the dominance of SUVs and trucks on American roads is more than a mere preference; it’s a reflection of decades of cultural evolution, infrastructural development, and policy decisions.


  1. jalopnik.com/trucks-and-suvs-are-now-over-80-percent-of-new-car-sale-1848427797
  2. jdpower.com/business/press-releases/jd-power-lmc-automotive-forecast-february-2021
  3. linkedin.com/pulse/from-oil-crisis-automotive-resilience-cars-during-1970s/
  4. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212012221000241

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Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.