The collapse of the family sedan hit another low in August as sales of the once rock-steady industry stalwart fell below a 30 percent share of light vehicles for the first time.
Analysts and auto executives alike no longer ask: "How low will it go?" Instead, they wonder whether the collapse of sedan sales will ever truly end.
Not all that long ago, such a broad consumer shift away from sedans — and, by extension, small cars — would have set off alarm bells with regulators and industry executives because of increased exposure to market volatility from sudden fuel price spikes.
Sell too many trucks, the thinking went, and suddenly, the nation becomes economically vulnerable to any crazed despot willing to disrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.
But such concern seems out of date now. The tightening of corporate average fuel economy standards over the years has helped eliminate most of the fuel-efficiency penalty a consumer would incur in choosing a pickup or utility vehicle over a sedan or small vehicle.
For all its faults, CAFE as a regulatory scheme has been successful in motivating automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, and it did so in a way that allowed them the necessary creativity and space to respond to changing market trends and consumer demand.
Largely because of CAFE, a Chevy Equinox that for the 2008 model year got a combined 19 mpg fuel economy rating averages a stunning 28 mpg combined for the 2018 model year.
Similarly, a 2008 Ford F-150 averaged just 16 mpg combined, and the 2018 model averages 21 mpg. Such improvements have become commonplace across automaker lineups, and though fuel economy ratings for sedans have improved as well, those changes have been less dramatic because those vehicles were already more efficient.
To be sure, every regulatory scheme deserves periodic scrutiny, and future gains in CAFE are likely to come at a heavier economic cost than previous successes — it is, after all, hard to outrun the law of diminishing returns.
But CAFE has been impressively valuable to this nation and its consumers, and the lack of an industrywide freakout about collapsing sedan sales is proof.