July 18, 2006

Rear-wheel drive on the rise, analyst says

Richmond Hill, Ontario – While front-wheel drive (FWD) still accounts for the majority of vehicles, rear-wheel drive (RWD) is making a comeback in passenger cars, says industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers.

The first generation of mainstream FWD vehicles were embraced by Canadian consumers in the early 1980s, DesRosiers says; in 1982, 46.6 per cent of Canadian passenger cars were FWD, while that number increased to 94.8 per cent by 2001, with RWD remaining almost exclusively in low-volume luxury and sports cars. The last year RWD cars represented the majority of passenger car sales was in 1981.

Light trucks (including SUVs) still account for the majority of the RWD market, taking 54.3 per cent in 2005, but FWD trucks are on an upswing, with an increase from 38.5 per cent of the market in 2000 to 45.7 per cent in 2005.

However, DesRosiers says that a recovery in RWD passenger cars has taken place in the last four years, and the 9.5 per cent sold in 2005 was the highest percentage since 1989. In 2001, 34 RWD cars were available, but in 2005, the number increased to fifty. “This recovery is no doubt a result of several important vehicles, including all variants of DaimlerChrysler’s LX platform (Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger), as well as the Cadillac CTS, Smart Fortwo, Mazda RX-8, Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35,” DesRosiers says. “All of these RWD vehicles were introduced between 2002 and 2005, and all have proven successful. Unlike in previous years, vehicle classes outside the luxury/sport arena are represented.

“The standard criticism of rear drive is that it’s bad in the snow, but today’s vehicles allay these fears with effective traction and stability control systems,” DesRosiers says.

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