Finishing Line

Consumer Choice

By Stefan Budricks

01/01/19

The final column for 2018 held out the prospect of a changing fleet of vehicles making its way to the car wash in the coming years. With GM’s plans to discontinue manufacturing a whole range of slow-selling sedan models following similar moves from other automakers, the average vehicle profile at the wash is set to evolve. The sedan’s prevalence will wane while trucks, crossovers, and SUV’s will rule the roost. Many an operator will say we are already in the midst of this development.

The sedans had a good run, though. A post on dailykos.com (December 26, 2018) provides an inkling of just how important they were to both domestic and foreign auto manufacturers’ continued success.

In an article titled “10 Cars that Saved Their Manufacturers,” the author lists 10 models over the past 70 years that rescued their creators from extinction at the time — every one a sedan. U.S. models fill five of the slots: the ‘49 Ford; ’58 Rambler American; ’61 Lincoln Continental, which saved the marque rather than the manufacturer; ’81 Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, also known as Chrysler’s K-cars; and the ’86 Ford Taurus.

Alas, no more. Any saving to be done will be left to the trucks, crossovers, and SUVs rolling off the assembly lines and, in due course, to their electric and autonomous versions. A measure of the impact one segment of this vehicle group is making is revealed in a recent study by Autolist.com, the new- and used-car search engine. Titled “Consumers Bullish on Growing Lifestyle Truck Segment,” the study gauged consumer attitudes regarding compact and midsize trucks, called “lifestyle trucks” by some.

Any stigma that might have attached at one time to driving a truck has long since evaporated. In fact, 80 percent of the study participants believed compact and midsize trucks have evolved significantly over the past 20 years in terms of comfort, safety, and fuel efficiency and fully expect them to be as desirable as today’s crossovers. These positive views are reflected in the surging sales figures: up 18 percent through October last year. Says Chase Disher, chief analyst at Autolist.com: “We’re about to enter a golden era for lifestyle trucks.”

The Autolist study found that 62 percent of those surveyed would definitely or probably consider buying a compact or midsize truck for their next vehicle; 33 percent said they would not. If anything illustrates the inroads these vehicles are making it is this survey result: 38 percent of sports car/muscle car owners and 33 percent of coupe owners would consider buying a lifestyle truck. Not surprisingly, full-size truck owners were the least likely to consider a step down to compact/midsize, but at 19 percent not to be dismissed.

Both men and women rank the usefulness of the bed as the number one reason for considering the purchase of a lifestyle truck. This is a to-be-expected finding albeit a troubling one for car washes. Open truck beds present particular challenges at the car wash. Modern equipment that allows for the profiling of every vehicle that enters the wash can detect an open bed and make adjustments accordingly, solving most of the problems. Loose items in the bed remain an issue particularly at unattended or minimally attended washes.

 

 



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