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In the end, the cars that matter the most to future shopper, carmakers and consumers in general are the cars you end up buying.
The folks at auto pricing site
TrueCar estimate that the auto industry will sell 15.7 million cars in the United States this year. That's the highest total since 2007. That doesn't necessarily mean Americans have rekindled their love affair with the automobile after the recession, though.
The Department of Transportation notes that U.S. driver, who had been racking up a steadily increasing number of miles since the 1970s, started cutting back in 2008 and never returned to that peak. Meanwhile, traffic information service
Inrix notes that as average gas prices started spiking in 2010, average commute times during peak hours dropped from more than four hours to less than two.
A study done this spring by the
Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that the average U.S. driver actually started cutting back well before the recession, peaking around 2004 but dropping 6% by 2011. While the total miles driven in the U.S. rose 3.8% from 1948 to 2004, they've been flat since.
Americans may be buying cars again, but it's more out of need than out of a sense of excitement or frivolity. The average car on U.S. roads is more than 11 years old, according to Polk. The average price of a used car, already propped up by a brief halt in domestic auto leases, has spiked as lightly used supply has dwindled. Today's car buyer is looking for something affordable. Failing that, they're seeking something reliable that will give them more value for their dollar.
We're now shopping for cars as we would shop for a set of drill bits or a sturdy hammer -- searching for a tool designed for a specific task that will last a decade or more and won't break under duress. The status symbol, the street racer, the sexy and streamlined beasts are on the endangered species list. They've been rendered high-priced playthings of a privileged class or fuel-efficient ponies desperately trying to show their practical side.
It isn't pretty, but it's plain reality when all but four cars among the Top 10 sold in the U.S. will set buyers back $25,000 or more. We took a look at the sales numbers heading into the last months of the year and found the 10 frontrunners most coveted by the U.S. car buyer. They're practical and predictable, but they're exactly what their buyers are looking for: