Why you no longer need a traditional car

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, joined Yahoo Finance at the Detroit auto show to discuss the latest automotive trends. Here are four:

Passenger cars are passé. Sales of passenger cars—sedans, coupes and hatchback—have fallen from half of all vehicle sales a few years ago to just 30% now. Pickups and SUVs—sometimes called crossovers—now represent 70% of all sales. That’s because SUVs, which used to be big vehicles built on pickup-truck frames, now entice buyers in every size and price category. “All these SUVs are really just cars with SUV bodies,” Brauer tells Yahoo Finance. “Why would you buy a car?”

The new Ford Explorer, unveiled in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

New SUVs on display in Detroit include a redesigned Ford Explorer, a back-from-the-dead Chevy Blazer, a plush three-row utility called the Kia Telluride, and an Escalade-lite from Cadillac called the XT6. Volkswagen bucked the trend by unveiling a new version of its Passat sedan. But you might not notice, because it looks a lot like the outgoing Passat it’s replacing.

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More pickups, too. Jeep introduced its first pickup in years, the Gladiator, to cash in on surging interest in pickups for recreational use rather than work. Another fun truck on the way is the new Ford Ranger. And Fiat Chrysler, parent of Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Chrysler, says it needs more mid-sized pickups. Meanwhile, Ford, Chevy, Ram and others continue to fancify traditional pickups like the F-150 and Silverado.

The new Jeep Gladiator pickup. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Giant screens. The ubiquity of smartphones has led automakers to install supersized versions in the dash of the newest models, with touch-screen controls becoming the default design choice. The standard command center on the new Explorer is an 8-inch touchscreen, with a bigger, optional model that looks like an iPad propped on the dash. There are more app-like technologies, too. The XT6, for instance, offers an optional night-vision system to help detect deer and other hard-to-spot hazards.

Do less yourself. The robot car isn’t here yet, but ordinary vehicles increasingly have some self-driving technology, such as systems that control the speed of the car, based on traffic, and handle parallel parking. “You’ve still got to pay attention,” says Brauer, “but you won’t have to work very hard in a traffic situation to keep the car on the road.” You still have to make the payments, though.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman