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All-Wheel Drive Gaining Traction In More Than Just Luxury Vehicles

Given a choice between a front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicle and one that has all-wheel drive (AWD) -- depending on the buyer and the vehicle -- consumers seem increasingly likely to select AWD.

That’s according to a report in the Detroit Free Press highlighting the importance of AWD to several automakers, particularly luxury makes.

Cadillac, for example, says that about 50 percent of Cadillac CTS models sold have AWD. Jim Vurpillat, Cadillac’s director of global marketing told the Detroit Free Press that AWD would take on an even greater role with the introduction of new Cadillac models, saying, “It will probably exceed 50 percent of our total model line.”

Why the shift toward AWD? For many consumers the reason is the confidence they feel with AWD, the ability to successfully navigate the road and terrain in any type of weather. Others equate AWD with luxury and are willing to pony up the extra $1,000 to $2,500 or more (in some luxury models) to have it – even at the expense of about 1 mpg fuel economy. Advanced technology, overall vehicle sophistication and better capability are what consumers associate with AWD today.

2011 Lincoln MKT

2011 Lincoln MKT

Enlarge Photo

At Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, about one quarter of Lincoln MKZ sedans have AWD, while about three quarters of consumers going for the MKT crossover choose the AWD option.

The Detroit newspaper quotes IHS Automotive consultant Paul Lacy who says that about 30 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. will have AWD by 2015, a “trend driven by the growth in all-wheel drive cars and crossovers.”

2011 Audi A8

2011 Audi A8

Enlarge Photo

Audi, the German automaker that invented modern all-wheel drive luxury car, is still the leader, selling about 80 percent of its product lineup in the U.S. with its quattro all-wheel drive system.

But consumers in the market for more mainstream cars are also going for AWD. Witness the availability of AWD in cars like the Ford Fusion and Chrysler 300. Buyers of all Subaru products have AWD standard. The mid-size 2011 Suzuki Kizashi sedan has available AWD (for about $1,100), while the large 2011 Ford Taurus SHO has the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, six-speed automatic transmission with paddle activation and AWD standard (starting at $38,020 MSRP).

What’s ahead for AWD – besides a proliferation in more vehicles? Look for lighter and more efficient systems that virtually do away with the fuel economy penalty. BorgWarner, which bought Swedish supplier Haldex, seeks to capitalize on both company’s expertise. Haldex, for example, developed an electrically powered rear axle that combines the performance benefits of AWD with hybrid-style technology that reportedly improves fuel economy by 20 percent, according to the Detroit Free Press report.

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[Detroit Free Press]

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