All-wheel drive cars set to grow in popularity

Many fleet managers will likely be aware of the main trends set to define the automotive landscape, such as electric cars and autonomous vehicles. However, there's another trend slipping under the radar that could be just as influential in terms of fleet safety. 

SUVs represent more than a third of the total vehicle market.

Previously, all-wheel drive (AWD) systems were usually only found in larger SUVs and some work utes. While there were occasional exceptions in the sedan market with the Subaru Impreza WRX and various Mitsubishi Evolutions, AWD was always positioned as an alternative rather than a standard feature. 

This is slowly changing, with SUVs and their smaller crossover counterparts growing more popular. According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, these vehicles represent more than a third (35.2 per cent) of the total vehicle market. 

As many of these vehicles are equipped with AWD, more fleet managers and drivers are being exposed to the technology. So, what are the pros and cons?

AWD expands its influence

Research firm Frost & Sullivan investigated the proliferation of AWD technology, finding it is now present in a wider range of vehicles than it has been in the past. According to the organisation, consumers have particularly high standards for the technology. While they enjoy the handling benefits of conventional systems, many are put off by the increased fuel consumption.

Automotive manufacturers are already investigating ways to mitigate these concerns, according to Automotive & Transportation Senior Research Analyst, Viroop Narla.

"The majority of AWD vehicles have electronically controlled systems such as automatic AWD that provide the optimum balance between fuel consumption and performance," he explained.

"The considerable progress made by OEMs in the fully electronic AWD segment is expected to further reduce fuel consumption."

In fact, analysts at Frost & Sullivan believe AWD drivetrains could be an important component of green cars, as the firm deduced they can improve fuel economy by as much as 30 per cent. 

AWD is perfect for off-road conditions. AWD is perfect for off-road conditions.

What are the pros and cons of AWD?

In vehicles such as SUVs and utes, AWD is essentially a tool for practicality, making it easier for drivers to tow loads as the power and torque are spread across four wheels. This latter point also means it is perfect in adverse conditions, as it offers more grip where two-wheel drive variants may struggle. 

The technology also found its way into other vehicle segments as well, such as sedans and hatchbacks. Many manufacturers also discovered these vehicles perform much better in dangerous conditions when equipped with AWD, as it offers more grip. 

While AWD systems have their roots in rally competition, the technology is now applicable to daily drivers as well.