Analyzing industry trends is a lot like panning for gold: After hours of painstaking work, sometimes all you get is some dirt along with sore, dirty fingers. However, every once in a while, a sliver of gold appears and makes all the work worthwhile. Here’s a trend that is probably more gold than dirt (but, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder): During the next five years (between 2002 and 2007) the number of four-wheel drive vehicles (normally-configured rear-wheel vehicles offering four-wheel drive) produced in North America will remain relatively stable at 3.8 million vehicles, while all-wheel drive vehicles (normally-configured front-wheel drive vehicles offering four-wheel drive) will leap from 484,000 to 1.4 million vehicles. As a percentage of vehicles produced the latter group grows from 3.0 percent of the market to 8.3 percent.
What does this mean? First, the OEMs are moving the “off-road” performance to cars of all segments, not just crossovers SUVs. This means more driveline and chassis content and complexity in segments that previously only offered front-wheel drive. For suppliers, it means more opportunity for those companies that can offer innovative functionality in more constrained, under-car spaces.