- Crossovers with all-wheel drive are increasingly popular with car shoppers, according to Edmunds and industry statistics.
- Buyers are willing to pay extra for the feature.
- The auto industry has made strides in resolving issues that turn off potential buyers when it comes to all-wheel drive.
DETROIT — All-wheel-drive vehicles are gaining traction.
The boom in all-wheel-drive vehicles can be attributed to America's growing preference for crossovers in place of sedans, to buyers willing to pay extra for a feature that provides a safety benefit such as better traction and the automotive industry's efforts to resolve issues that turned off potential buyers.
Through October, all-wheel-drive vehicle sales, composed of cars and crossovers combined, accounted for 17.5 percent of light-duty vehicles sold in the United States. That's an increase of 4.4 percentage points since 2008, according to IHS Automotive and R.L. Polk new vehicle registration data.
"All-wheel-drive systems in general have gotten much better," said Dave Buchko, a BMW of North America spokesman. "Traditional trade-offs like poorer vehicle dynamics or increased fuel consumption are really no longer a factor."
Adds Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Edmunds: "Crossovers are a big reason for the increase in all-wheel drive."
The crossover segment is essentially divided into subcompact, compact and midsized categories. However, it is the compact segment that has seen a sales explosion in recent years, particularly for all-wheel-drive models. Based on data from IHS Automotive/Polk, sales of all-wheel-drive compact crossovers for January through October this year increased nearly 79 percent compared to the same 10-month period in 2008. The Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are among the crossovers in this segment.
Additionally, buyers are increasingly checking off all-wheel drive when shopping for a sedan, coupe or wagon. The take rate on all-wheel-drive cars has increased 2.5 percentage points since 2008, to 8.7 percent of the overall light-vehicle market through October, according to IHS Automotive/Polk. Among the vehicles in that segment are the Ford Fusion, Cadillac XTS and Mercedes-Benz E class.
Interestingly, when four-wheel-drive, light-duty SUV and pickup truck sales are added to the mix, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Tacoma and Ford F-150, about 32 percent of Americans have opted for either all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicles, according to IHS Automotive/Polk data. That is about a 5-percentage point increase since 2008.
Jessica Caldwell doesn't believe all-wheel-drive popularity is a fluke.
"There is still probably room for growth," she said. "It is more expensive, but I think it will become cheaper as you put it on more cars. In that smaller crossover segment, there is probably room for more niches, more products. If that happens, then I think all-wheel-drive numbers will grow."
The luxury market has embraced the feature.
Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell (no relation) said: "It has grown to the point where it is part of the appeal of especially a premium car."
Every Cadillac model is available with all-wheel drive and through October about 50 percent of the brand's vehicles were sold with that feature, he said.
At BMW, 56 percent of the vehicles sold through October were equipped with all-wheel drive. The number rises to 93 percent at Audi, which has been marketing all-wheel drive, called "quattro," for decades.
Edmunds says: This is one instance where following the crowd may be a good idea.