The harsh winter caused a significant drop in new-car sales in the United States. However, it was not without a silver lining—the weather allowed automakers more sales of all-wheel drive (AWD) models.
While it is true that the extreme cold and heavy snow forced many consumers to stay out of dealer showrooms, there were those who managed to drop by and their vehicles of choice were the AWD variety. Brands which sold AWD autos did well in February. For instance, Subaru’s sales jumped 24 percent. Jeep also enjoyed a 47 percent growth last month. Audi’s February sales got a boost from its AWD Q7 small SUV, whose sales advanced 34 percent.
General Motors also benefited from the bad weather. Though overall sales slid 1 percent, sales of some of its AWD models rose. Sales of GM’s Buick Encore and Chevrolet Equinox doubled, marking the latter’s best February performance. GM’s sales of crossover models also went up 4 percent.
Meanwhile, the Chrysler Group has consistently experienced demand growth for their AWDs since 2009. Now that winters are most severe, demand is expected to rise further. Chrysler’s U.S. sales chief, Reid Bigland, mentioned that their Jeep 4×4 capability is most suited for the weather.
The increase in demand for AWDs is attributed to the growing interest from young, married consumers who prioritize safety. For most of these individuals, AWD is a safe bet. Formerly found solely on huge trucks, all-wheel drive transmission enables all four wheels (or at least a combination of the wheels) to move the vehicle forward no matter the traction conditions. Many buyers are convinced AWDs will drive better on icy roads.
Demand for AWD increased with the cold season, but preference for it started way before the current chilly weather was experienced in the country. According to IHS Automotive, U.S. sales of cars and SUVs with AWD climbed 79 percent from 2009 to 2013. Ford’s sales of AWDs in particular rose 189 percent in the same period. Total sales throughout the industry also experienced an upswing of 53 percent.
Of all vehicles sold in 2013, 23 percent were AWD vehicles—this marks a 19 percent increase compared to 2012. Nearly one in every four vehicles sold in the U.S. last year was AWD.
While overall AWD sales improved, demand is still dictated by regional tastes. Demand for the AWD feature is not considerable in states that get a lot of sunshine, such as California. On the contrary, the Northeast, Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest love AWDs. The Northeast in particular is the main market for AWDs. Ford was able to sell many AWD cars and SUVs in that region, causing the company to enjoy a 30 percent growth.
January was a particularly tough month for automakers as sales declined 3.1 percent. Snow, ice and record low temperatures prevented car buyers from leaving their homes to shop. February proved to be better, with U.S. auto sales at nearly 1.2 million vehicles. Car companies are looking forward to having more sales as the weather improves and spring arrives.