Ford Motor Co. plans to add four sport utility vehicles by 2020 to expand into new market segments, the automaker’s top U.S. sales executive said.
SUVs will account for four in every 10 vehicles sold in the U.S., up from one in three, Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said after a speech Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show. Ford will offer the new models globally, not just in the U.S., he said.
The popularity of SUVs will keep growing even if gasoline prices rise because baby boomers, born from after World War II into the mid-1960s, like the way the vehicles help them feel young, while millennials, born starting in the 1980s, need them for hauling their growing families, he said.
Last year, Ford sold about 1.5 million SUVs worldwide, including 804,000 in the U.S.
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“Low gas prices are really a minor part of the equation,” LaNeve said.
He declined to name the new sport utility vehicles Ford plans or say where they will be built. One segment Ford doesn’t compete in now is mini SUVs, he said.
Ford builds the F-150 pickup and Transit van at its Claycomo assembly plant.
Even if gasoline gets more expensive, consumers are more likely to shift to SUVs that are based on chassis and engines developed for cars, rather than trucks, he said. The car-based SUVs are now capable of achieving almost the same fuel economy as cars, LaNeve said.
He also said Ford is “very optimistic” about the U.S. market this year. Low gasoline prices and interest rates and strength in housing and consumer confidence mean there is no letup in sight after 2015’s record auto sales, LaNeve said.