A tale of two vehicle types

Light and heavy passenger vehicle owners are two opposite sides of the same coin. What drives one group toward smaller, sportier passenger vehicles is what repels the other consumers group and pushes them into the arms of the more spacious heavy passenger segment. Automakers need to understand that these groups are unlikely to cross over into the other territory, and maintaining a robust vehicle line-up, rather than focusing solely on one type, is a more effective sales strategy.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the light and heavy passenger vehicle market

  • Light and heavy passenger vehicle segment sales performance

  • Purchase consideration by vehicle type

  • Barriers to segment entry


For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions:

Light passenger vehicle: a grouping of vehicles that includes sedans, coupes and minicars.

  • Sedan: a vehicle with a closed body and a closed trunk. The trunk of the vehicle is separated from the body of the vehicle where the driver and passengers would sit.

  • Coupe: a vehicle with a sloping or truncated rear roofline that traditionally has two doors.

Heavy passenger vehicle: a grouping of vehicles that includes SUVs, CUVs and pickup trucks.

  • SUV: a sport utility vehicle where the body and trunk of the vehicle are connected (also known as a unibody construction). SUVs have elements of off-road vehicles such as raised ground clearance.

  • Crossover: a sport utility vehicle that is built on a passenger vehicle frame that has elements of both SUVs, such as a unibody construction, and sedans, such as better fuel economy.

  • Pickup truck: a vehicle with an enclosed cab where the driver and passengers sit and an open cargo area.

  • Wagon/hatchback: a vehicle body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area.

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic, and on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in the US.

Across the US, state-level stay-at-home orders rolled out throughout the months of March and April, remaining in place through May and in some cases June. During this time, referred to as lockdown, nonessential businesses and school districts across the nation closed or shifted to remote operations. During this time, consumers had little need for an immediate vehicle purchase or lacked the financial means and security to buy their next car.

During reemergence, all 50 states have relaxed stay-at-home orders and allowed businesses to operate with varying levels of social distancing measures in place. The continued spread of COVID-19 infections has driven some states to slow down or reverse course on reopening plans. The ongoing pandemic and subsequent recession continue to contribute to the sharp decline in vehicle sales.

Mintel anticipates the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021, until a vaccine is available.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 10-year economic projections that were released in July 2020. The CBO estimates that unemployment rates will remain above 5% through 2025. At the time of this report, unemployment currently sits at 7.9%. The consumer confidence sentiments currently sit at 74.1 compared to a pre-pandemic level of 101.2 in February 2020. While unemployment and consumer confidence have been steadily improving month over month, vehicle sales have also displayed monthly signs of recovery.

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