• Sales of Ford's all-wheel-drive cars and utilities have tripled since 2009
  • Increases attributed to gains in small utility and midsize sedan segments
  • Automaker builds all-wheel-drive market share in Northeast and Pacific Northwest

As all-wheel-drive systems continue to gain more traction with consumers, Ford Motor Company has reported tremendous sales increases for vehicles equipped with this technology. From 2009 to 2013, sales of the automaker's passenger cars and utilities with all-wheel drive have tripled -- an impressive 189 percent increase, eclipsing the industry's 79 percent growth during the same 4-year period.

A big reason for this dramatic rise is the influx of all-wheel-drive sales in unexpected vehicle segments, such as midsize sedans and compact crossovers. All-wheel-drive systems are traditionally available in the large SUV and truck segments. These are the vehicles that are typically associated with winter weather prowess or off-road driving capabilities. But Ford has begun making significant in-roads for all-wheel-drive systems with buyers of popular models such as the Fusion and the Escape.

"All-wheel-drive sales continue to outpace the industry overall, but Ford all-wheel-drive sales are increasing faster than the industry in large part due to the success of our newer utilities and passenger cars that offer it," said Erich Merkle, Ford sales analyst. "Escape and Explorer sold exceptionally well last year. That bumped our numbers. But if you look at Fusion, it's the only midsize sedan among the top five best-selling [models] that even offers all-wheel drive."

Ford has benefitted in its all-wheel-drive pursuits by concentrating efforts in regions such as the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest. Although these geographical areas generally skew more toward import brands, the domestic carmakers are growing their all-wheel-drive sales volumes in both markets. In that vein, the company's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive has gained notoriety as one of the more sophisticated and well-engineered systems available, competing with brands such as Subaru, Audi and Acura.

Sending up to 100 percent of power to the front or rear wheels helps make Intelligent All-Wheel Drive a real asset in snowy or wet weather. This transfer of power results in better traction all the way around. And to optimize road grip and handling even more, this tech-savvy setup can assess road conditions 20 times faster than the blink of an eye and adjust to any changes in the road surface almost instantly. This system also compensates for oversteer and understeer to make the vehicle more stable and predictable through cornering maneuvers.

What it means to you: Those who live in cold-weather climates are no longer limited to the traditional SUV or truck segments to find a capable all-wheel-drive vehicle. Ford and other brands are bringing out smaller utilities and passenger cars that are more affordable options for all-wheel-drive buyers.

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Jessica Shea Choksey is an automotive journalist and former writer/reporter for the PBS/Discovery Channel television series "MotorWeek." She began her career in journalism as an editor for numerous magazines and publications mainly outside of the automotive field. Jessica currently resides with her family, in Southern California.

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