How U.S. Vehicle Production Has Shifted Over 45 Years
Over the last few decades, vehicle production in the U.S. has dramatically shifted, with SUVs emerging as the indisputable frontrunners.
Once perceived as vehicles solely for off-road capabilities and adventuring (hence the name sport utility vehicle), SUVs soon became a useful transportation alternative for large families. Shortly after, they became the top-selling models for many automakers.
The graphic above uses data on the annual production shares of different vehicle types from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explore the factors that have led to the surging popularity of SUVs.
U.S. Vehicle Production: The Rise of SUVs
As SUV production has evolved, they’ve started to blur the line between car and truck classes. The EPA classifies most two-wheel drive SUVs under 6,000 lbs as cars (car SUVs), while those with four-wheel drive or above 6,000 lbs are trucks (truck SUVs).
In the American market, sedans and wagons dominated production from before the 1970s and well into the 1990s. Combined with smaller car SUVs, cars accounted for more than half of U.S. vehicle production well into the 2010s.
But the rapid rise of heavier truck SUVs has shifted the landscape. Sedans and wagons dipped below 50% of market production for the first time in 2004. And by 2017, trucks (including truck SUVs, pickups, and minivans) have been the ones accounting for over half of new vehicle production.
|U.S. Production Share (%)||1975||1980||1985||1990||1995||2000||2005||2010||2015||2020|
The growth of SUVs can be partially linked to all-wheel drive systems that gained momentum in the 1980s, with the Audi Quattro winning three rallies in its rookie season of 1981.
During that same time, new SUV models started to gain popularity, like the 1984 Jeep Cherokee—considered the first modern SUV with four doors—and Land Rover’s Range Rover, which entered the North American market in 1987.
By melding the benefits of space, performance, and comfort into one vehicle, SUVs began competing with both vans and station wagons as the quintessential family car. In the 90s, affordable midsize models like the Ford Explorer, Subaru Legacy Outback, and Toyota RAV4 paved the way for more middle-class families to enter the SUV market.
However, SUV production has been prone to fluctuations. Demand first started dropping as gas prices rose in the lead-up to the 2008 recession, which further strained finances and caused families to opt for cheaper non-SUV models. This significantly hurt the American “Big Three” automotive producers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) at the time, for which trucks and SUVs had become the primary market.
SUV Fuel Efficiency and Millennials
Driven by improvements in fuel efficiency and societal trends, SUV demand roared back over the last 10 years.
Automakers have implemented fuel-saving technologies, such as direct injection and turbocharging, and have used more lightweight materials in construction to further boost engine efficiency.
While fuel efficiency has improved across all types of vehicles over the last four decades, sedans and wagons climbed far earlier in miles per gallon (MPG) scores, while SUVs have only more recently started catching up.
Since 2000, fuel efficiency for sedans and wagons improved by around 38%, while car SUVs saw a jump of 70% over the same time period, with both sitting at just over 30 MPG for 2021 models. Even larger truck SUVs, seen as the epitome of gas-guzzling vehicles, have become as efficient (in MPG terms) as sedans were in the 2000s.
Another factor influencing the market is the surprising entry of millennials, who now represent the majority of the population in the United States. Just a few years ago, automakers were fretting over millennials being a childless, car-less, city-dwelling group who cared little about buying cars or homes.
Fast forward to today—as millennials have aged and their wallets have gotten a little heavier, more of them are buying SUVs to drive to their suburban homes or just to fit their dogs.
SUVs are also benefiting from the shift to electric vehicles. In 2022, SUVs represented 46% of global car sales, and electric SUVs accounted for over half of global electric car sales.
Top U.S. Food Imports by Origin Country
This infographic shows the top exporting countries for U.S. food imports, ranging from exotic fruits to meat, oils, spices, and more.
Top U.S. Food Imports by Origin Country
The U.S. is a major producer and exporter of food products, but did you know that it’s also one of the world’s largest food importers?
Due to seasonality and climate, some foods can’t be grown on home soil, at least enough to fulfill consumption demands. Indeed, many familiar grocery items come from other countries.
This infographic from Julie Peasley uses data from the Chatham House Resource Trade Database (CHRTD) to show where the U.S. gets its food from, highlighting the top exporting countries of various imported food items.
The Types of Imported Foods
The U.S. imported around $148 billion worth of agricultural products in 2020, and according to the USDA, this has since risen to $194 billion in 2022.
Around 50% of all U.S. agricultural imports are horticultural products like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and more. Other large import categories include sugar and tropical products, meat, grains, and oilseeds.
With that context in mind, we break down each category and highlight the five foods with the largest single-origin import value.
Farm Fresh: Fruit and Vegetable Imports
U.S. fruit and vegetable imports have been on a steady rise since 2000. In fact, between 2011 and 2021, fruits and nuts imports made up 44% of domestic consumption, while 35% of vegetables consumed in the U.S. came from outside the country.
Mexico is by far the largest exporter of fruits and vegetables to the United States.
|Fruit or Vegetable||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
The U.S. imported $2.5 billion worth of tomatoes from Mexico in 2020, representing 31% of international tomato trade. Avocados, native to central Mexico, were nearly as popular with $2.1 billion worth of imports.
Generally, the largest exporters of fruits and vegetables to the U.S. are North and South American countries, with products often coming from Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, and Brazil.
Beefed Up: Meat Imports
The U.S. is the world’s largest overall consumer of beef (or bovine meat), and the third-largest per capita consumer at nearly 37.9 kg (84 lbs) per person per year.
Therefore, despite being one of the top producers of beef, the country still imports a lot of it.
|Meat||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
|Bovine Cuts||🇨🇦 Canada||$1.4B|
|Bovine Cuts, Frozen||🇳🇿 New Zealand||$839M|
|Sheep Meat||🇦🇺 Australia||$643M|
|Swine Hams, Shoulders, and Cuts||🇨🇦 Canada||$559M|
|Bovine Cuts, Bone In||🇲🇽 Mexico||$449M|
Precisely, The U.S. imported $8.7 billion worth of meat in 2020. Canada was the largest source of imported beef, with the U.S. accounting for more than 70% of all Canadian beef exports.
The sources of meat imports are more geographically diverse than fruits and vegetables, with billions of dollars of imports coming from New Zealand and Australia.
Making Waves: Seafood Imports
Despite plenty of coastlines, the U.S. imports 70–85% of all its seafood and accounted for 15% of global seafood imports in 2020 at $21.8 billion.
Frozen shrimp and prawns were the top seafood import, with $1.9 billion worth from India.
|Fish and Seafood||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
|Shrimp and Prawns, Frozen||🇮🇳 India||$1.9B|
|Fish Fillet or Meat||🇨🇱 Chile||$1.4B|
|Fish Fillet or Meat, Frozen||🇨🇳 China||$884M|
|Crabs, Frozen||🇨🇦 Canada||$719M|
The largest source of U.S. seafood imports overall with $3.1 billion total was Canada, which leads in lobster, crab, and whole fish imports. It was followed by Chile at $2.1 billion, primarily for parts of fish (fillet or meat, fresh or chilled).
Other Foods: Oils, Grains, Coffee, and More
There are plenty of other types of foods and agricultural products that the U.S. relies on other countries for. Here are the largest single-origin U.S. food imports for the remaining categories:
|Food||Category||Largest Exporting Country||U.S. Import Value (2020)|
|Canola Oil, Refined||Oils||🇨🇦 Canada||$1.4B|
|Coffee, Not Roasted||Stimulants/Spices||🇨🇴 Colombia||$1.0B|
|Cashews, Shelled||Nuts/Seeds/Beans||🇻🇳 Vietnam||$960M|
|Raw Sugar, Refined||Sweetners||🇲🇽 Mexico||$723M|
Some of the highest and potentially surprising exports? Imports of refined Canadian canola oil totaled $1.4 billion in 2020, while Vietnam exported a whopping $960 million worth of cashews to America.
A Global Plate: The Diversity of U.S. Food Imports
The amount and value of food imported to the U.S. highlights the diversity of consumer preferences and the importance of global food stocks, considering America is one of the world’s leading food producers.
With countries having to rely on others to satisfy demand for limited production supply or exotic foods, the interconnectedness of the global food system is both vital and delicate.
What’s clear is that the U.S. food plate is indeed a global one, with many foods taking remarkable journeys from farm to fork.
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