An age old argument in the automotive community has always been: front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive? In the past, cars were primarily RWD, with FWD as something of an oddity. Those days are clearly in the rear view mirror now, as FWD became dominant for its space and efficiency benefits, as well as improved characteristics in the snow.
RWD is primarily the domain of luxury manufacturers (with a few exceptions). But, there is a third way – all-wheel drive. Different from four-wheel drive, which has lower gears focused on off-roading, AWD sends power to all four-wheels via traditional delivery.
Many new crossovers use AWD exclusively, but AWD has been gaining popularity across the board. Primarily a luxury item, it has also gained with mainstream brands. So much so in fact, that according to The Detroit Free Press, industry analysts predict it will make up 30% percent of all new car sales by 2015.
Audi, unsurprisingly, leads the pack with a take rate of 80% for it’s all-wheel drive Quattro system in the United States. Quattro has been a cornerstone of Audi’s products for years, with the company placing a particular emphasis on the system.
Audi’s American product planning chief Filip Brabec says it is a fundamental Audi trait: “For us, it’s more than a system to improve driving in bad weather….we believe having control of all four wheels is better than only two. As a driver, you’re just a little less likely to get into trouble. All-wheel drive expands the envelope of control.”
The system also helps Audi to compete with RWD competitors – for many (including us for the most part) FWD in the luxury segment is looked down upon.
The real surprise is with brands like Cadillac, whose CTS has an AWD sales rate of around 50 percent. Armed with that data, Cadillac is planning a more intense focus on AWD in future models. Cadillac’s global marketing director Jim Vurpillat expects AWD to exceed 50% of its total lineup sales going forward.
We can see why AWD is gaining in popularity, particularly on what are usually FWD models. The interesting element will be seeing if it really penetrates through to the mainstream with further gains in cars such as midsize sedans.