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S.U.V. vs. Sedan, and Detroit vs. the World, in a Fight for the Future


Ford’s lineup casualties include the Fusion, once among the nation’s most popular family sedans, and the Focus, the compact sedan and hatchback that helped prove Detroit could compete against Japanese blue-chippers like Honda’s Civic and Toyota’s Corolla.

Instead, Ford will expand its S.U.V. and pickup portfolio, and pour $11 billion into 40 electrified models by 2022. Those include an electric version of its F-Series pickup, America’s perennially best-selling vehicle, and a “Mustang-inspired” electric vehicle — in fact, another crossover S.U.V. — that’s expected in 2020. Ford is also investing heavily in self-driving technology, through its Argo AI unit.

Those are “all better businesses than traditional sedans,” Mr. Galhotra said. “We’re providing the vehicles that consumers want, and playing to the strength of the company.”

Mr. Galholtra, like many analysts and industry executives, said the shift to S.U.V.s appeared to be permanent. He gave familiar reasons for this: the tall stance and “command seating,” which afford better views, make climbing in or out a breeze and make owners feel safer, and the yawning liftgates and cargo holds, which no sedan trunk can match.

Even the world’s leading luxury marques, which once scoffed at S.U.V.s, have learned that resistance is futile: Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and Maserati all offer S.U.V.s, which reliably become their best-selling models in America and globally, with Ferrari and Aston Martin to follow.

Yet every mainstream foreign automaker, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen, continues to send new cars to showrooms, despite flagging sales. Brian Smith, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor America, feels that Ford and Fiat Chrysler’s strategies are shortsighted.


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