It hasn't suddenly become a thing. People have been leasing cars forever.
Until this year, Illinois had the distinction of being a state which charged FULL sales tax on the purchase price of a leased car. If you dumped the car after the term, you'd get none of the difference. If you decided to KEEP the car, you'd pay sales tax (again) on the residual. Leasing was only popular with people bad at math and not willing to gamble with reselling a car later.
I remember my first cell phone and contract in the early 90's. Salesman: "the phone is free, and then service is $40/month."
Me: "What if I decide to just buy a phone?"
Salesman: "Then the service is $30/month."
Me: "So, I'm basically financing the phone into the monthly service, but like... forever?"
Me: "I think I'll buy the phone."
It was several years later that they all decided to screw the consumer twice: by charging the same monthly charge whether you bought the phone or not.