Customers Buying More 4x4s, Ford (Not Jeep) Leading the Way

The hottest vehicle debuts over the last few years have been four- or all-wheel drive capable models, and most of them have been Fords. The reborn Ford Bronco, redesigned Jeep Wrangler, new Ford Maverick and Jeep Gladiator, and fresh Ford Ranger have helped ignite a spark in the off-roading and overloading communities.

The leader in 4x4 sales this century isn't Jeep, despite long holding consumers' attention with its Wrangler, which is routinely billed as the consummate off-roader. Instead, it's Ford. Since 2000, Ford has sold more 4x4 vehicles than any other automaker, spurred by purchases of its Explorer SUV.

Sales of those equipped vehicles are up more than 30 percentage points over the last decade. S&P Global Mobility reports that the automaker sold more than 1.2 million four-wheel-powered vehicles in the U.S. in 2021, about 18 percent more than the next best-selling brand, Toyota, and 42 percent more than Jeep.

Ford Bronco family
Ford introduced three Bronco family members in the last few years: Bronco Four-Door, Bronco Two-Door and Bronco Sport. Ford Motor Company

Enthusiasm for Ford's 4x4s has doubled in the last 15 years. In 2006, 37 percent of Ford customers opted for a four-wheel drive model. Last year, 72.6 percent of all Ford retail sales were vehicles equipped with such a system, according to Ford internal data.

"With the $900 billion U.S. outdoor recreation industry growing at 4.5 percent annually, we now see more than 114 million consumers wanting to get outdoors and off-road, and Ford has positioned its SUV and truck lineups to continue to capture this growing lifestyle, already selling more 4x4 vehicles in America than any other automaker," said Mark Grueber, Ford passenger vehicle marketing manager.

Ford's 4x4 lineup has been boosted in recent years with new models and trim levels. Its Bronco Sport and Bronco SUVs make up a fresh section of the Ford stable alongside the new Expedition and Explorer Timberline, which are geared toward adventure enthusiasts. The Super Duty, F-150, and Ranger Tremor trucks push off-roading limits even further.

Toyota and Jeep continue to compete for the 4x4 audience, introducing new powertrains and grades designed to entice. The Wrangler 4xe is a Jeep with a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrain that was created to be the most powerful, capable and fuel efficient model in the Wrangler stable. It's quickly become the most popular PHEV sold in America.

2022 Ford Explorer Timberline
The Ford Explorer Timberline is designed to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. Ford Motor Company

The division of Stellantis has other 4xe models in its lineup globally, and soon in the U.S. The Renegade 4xe and Compass 4xe have made their way to Europe while the two-row Grand Cherokee 4xe is arriving at U.S. dealerships in the coming weeks.

Toyota continues to introduce new versions of its off-road capable Tacoma and Tundra trucks, as well as the 4Runner and Sequoia SUVs as its models line up for generational changes in this year and the coming new.

"All things equal, 4x4 should be less of a requirement today than in decades past due to advances in technology that influence a car's drivability and mechanics," Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D Power told Newsweek.

"Engineers like four-wheel drive because today's vehicles have more power than ever and 4x4 or all-wheel drive is better at putting all that power to use. Car companies and dealers like them because they're more profitable. Customers like them because they feel safer."

2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe
Jeep has installed a plug-in hybrid electric powertrain in its Wrangler 4xe SUV. Stellantis

Two groups are buying 4x4s with more ferocity than before over the last decade: females and Millennials. In 2012, 27.1 percent of female Ford buyers purchased a four-wheel drive model. It is now up to 53 percent.

The National Automobile Dealers Association says that women are influencing over 85 percent of all car buying decisions and lead 60 percent of all purchasing.

The added control of a more comprehensive drivetrain is appealing to Ford electric vehicle buyers as well. Two-thirds of all Mustang Mach-E are equipped with a dual-motor electric all-wheel drive system. Volkswagen offers the ID.4 electric crossover with similar technology.