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America is turning away from cars

Much like the station wagon went from a staple of the American household in the '60s and '70s to being phased out by the late '90s, the sedan is slowly fading away.

In August, sales of cars dropped below 40 percent of total vehicle sales, with individual automakers reporting substantial double-digit declines.


Car Sales in August

Cars, whether compact models like the Ford Fiesta, or midsize sedans like the Honda Accord, are struggling to attract buyers who are moving toward bigger, more versatile crossover utility vehicles, SUVs and pickup trucks.

"Where you used to see the Accord and Camry as the iconic brands for Honda and Toyota, I think you will now see CR-Vs and RAV4 take that over," said Karl Brauer, senior director of insights with Kelley Blue Book. "I think the SUV is now going to become the new benchmark car for the American car buyer."

Why have consumers fallen in love with crossovers, SUVs and pickups?

A big factor is their size and versatility.

"The old, three-box sedan as we know it, with a hood, a roof and then a deck lid is definitely on its way out," said Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors. "The crossover has now become the new family sedan."

The fact that gas prices remain well under $3 a gallon for most of the country has certainly made bigger vehicles more appealing. Plus, the latest crossovers and SUVs are more fuel efficient than previous versions.

The drop-off in demand for cars has been quick.

Less than a decade ago, automakers were scrambling to re-tool their U.S. plants so they could build more cars and fewer SUVs. High gas prices were killing demand for heavy sport utility vehicles that often got under 20 miles per gallon.

Of course, back then, the gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius was one of the hottest cars in showrooms, with buyers often waiting months to take delivery.

These days it's not hard to find a Prius. Sales in 2016 are down 26 percent.