Crossovers Gaining on SUVs

Cross/utility vehicles, amalgamations that look like SUVs but offer kinder rides because they are on car platforms, will outsell traditional SUVs by the end of 2006. So predicts George Pipas, manager of U.S. sales analysis for Ford Motor Co., who has tracked the phenomenal growth of since 1996. That's when the first CUV debuted, the Toyota RAV4. By 2000, crossovers still were a niche segment with

Cross/utility vehicles, amalgamations that look like SUVs but offer kinder rides because they are on car platforms, will outsell traditional SUVs by the end of 2006.

So predicts George Pipas, manager of U.S. sales analysis for Ford Motor Co., who has tracked the phenomenal growth of “crossovers” since 1996.

That's when the first CUV debuted, the Toyota RAV4. By 2000, crossovers still were a niche segment with 14 different models. Then sales took off as more and more auto makers joined in, making it “a very competitive segment with everyone playing in it,” says Pipas.

Now there are 41 different CUV offerings. Total 2005 sales will be about 2.2 million units, compared with 2.4 million for traditional SUVs.

As crossover sales continue to rise and truck-based SUV sales decline, CUVs in 2006 will reach about 2.35 million units, while SUV sales will dip to about 2.3 million this year, predicts Pipas.

That “crossover” will occur four years sooner than Pipas initially had reckoned, he tells the Automotive Press Assn. in Detroit.

Although SUVs will remain an important segment, CUVs will become a major one, he says. “Just as SUVs in the 1990s were called the vehicle of that decade, CUVs will be remembered as the vehicles of this decade.”

One reason for the growth is that CUVs offer cargo capacity similar to traditional SUVs, yet feature smoother car-like ride and handling. Aging Baby Boomers especially like that, and they remain a group with potent buying power, says Pipas, who at age 58 is one of them.

“There is now a Ford Explorer in my driveway, but three years from now I don't think I'll want a vehicle with a step bar,” he says. And being “posterior challenged,” he says he anticipates wanting a gentler CUV ride as he ages.

CUV models started out as compacts, but “people are shocked when they see how big crossovers are these days,” says Pipas. Beefier models include the Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Highlander, Mercury Mariner and the new Mercedes-Benz R Class.

Pipas notes that most CUVs look like traditional SUVs, while some look like station wagons, “although market people don't like it when I mention that term.”

He predicts future crossovers will not just be more car-like in their driving characteristics, but look more car-like with “modern, stylish and sophisticated” designs.

The Lexus RX 330 and upcoming Ford Edge are examples of that, he says.

Meanwhile, Pipas credits Haig Stoddard, Ward's manager-industry analysis, with being the first vehicle trend tracker to break out CUVs as a separate segment.

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