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Opinion | The Look of Cars Is Driving Me Out of My Mind

Today the majority of vehicles sold in America are crossovers or S.U.V.s, and pickups have also long been popular. Aesthetically, the pickups are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Even Ford’s new F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the longtime best-selling vehicle in America, looks pretty much like every other pickup on the road.

The S.U.V.s, and crossovers, meanwhile, come in two basic shapes: boxes and bubbles. The boxes are the S.U.V.s, which range from huge (Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer) to really huge (Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition). The bubbles are the crossovers, whose sales have shot up over the past couple of decades.

Until a few years ago, the Toyota Camry sedan was the best-selling passenger car in the United States, a position it had held for nearly two decades. The Camry has since been dethroned by a bubble.

As of October, Toyota’s RAV-4 crossover was the nation’s best-selling nontruck passenger vehicle of the year. Honda’s similar-looking CR-V is just behind it. Automakers have been backing away from sedans. In 2018, Ford said it would stop making sedans for the U.S. market.

Collectively, S.U.V.s and crossovers will account for nearly 55 percent of vehicles sold in America in 2021, according to Stephanie Brinley, an automotive analyst at the market research firm IHS Markit. Pickups are projected to make up an additional 18.4 percent of the market. In other words, almost three out of every four passenger vehicles sold this year were trucks, crossovers or S.U.V.s.

There are many forces pushing for sameness. Constraints imposed by safety regulations and aerodynamics have left car companies little room for experimental designs. The bigger constraint is what customers want — vehicles with roomy interiors that ride high, with the feel of a living room, or perhaps a throne.

Brinley and others in the car industry expect consumer preferences to stick even as everything else about cars changes. A very popular Tesla vehicle is the Model Y, a pretty traditional-looking crossover. When Ford decided to put up a strong rival to Tesla, it, too, went with a crossover: the new Mustang Mach-E, which looks much like the Model Y and nothing like any Mustang that Ford ever made before. By 2025, Brinley predicts, S.U.V.s and crossovers will account for 59 percent of sales, and pickups almost 20 percent — meaning that four out of every five cars sold will be pickups, bubbles or boxes.

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