Derek’s recent article on the CUV “event horizon” seemed to have been misunderstood by some of the B&B. Derek’s fine analysis showed you how one type of car, the crossover, has left its usual stronghold of America and is now eclipsing other kinds of cars in other markets. His proof is the new Mercedes GLA which shows that now everybody wants in. I posit that the “event horizon” came somewhat earlier in the form of the Renault/Dacia Duster and that this phenomenon had been brewing for a while. My home country of Brazil is one place where crossovers have been steadily rising in popularity.
For those of you living in the USA, it’s easy to dismiss small crossovers. You are blessed with open spaces, cheap gas and a choice of automobiles with limits that will never come close to being tested. Your streets are, and have been, littered for decades with huge land yachts in various forms: cars, full-size pickupss, SUVs and finally CUVs. It used to be that different markets had different requirements. Not anymore. Now, with globalization the kind of car you can buy has less to do with what you want, but rather what others want, even if they’re an ocean or two away.
For Americans, the CUV can be a bit of a let down. Not as capable as the Body-on-Frame SUVs and pickups of yore, not as roomy as the completely misnamed minivans prevalent in the North of the Americas, the CUV nonetheless fits the bill and offers a tangible set of advantages for consumers in world. Stepping up from their small, simple, crudely finished compact hatches, the latest crop of CUVs offer more powerful engines, better build quality, more room (specially for your head!) and more prestige. European, Latin American and Asian consumers can and will rationalize and their new toy as a big step up from their old Ford Ka, Renault Symbol or Fiat Siena.
In markets where the population can afford it, the most successful crossovers aren’t all that different to the ones sold in North America. As Derek mentioned in his original post, the 9 of the top 10 4x4s sold in France are all on offer in the United States. I went over to Matt Gasnier’s most excellent best selling car blog to check out how CUVs in general where doing. To my great surprise there are 3 crossovers in the French Top 10. Three!!!! In France. Can you understand the significance of this? France, the country where the only truck-like vehicle that had managed to break into the top 10 until very recently, in all the history of French car sales, was the Dacia Duster. Now there are three CUVs selling in the top 10. And growing.
I see the effects here in Brazil. Some commenters on Derek’s article mentioned they had seen their first Range Rover Evoque. Here, in poor Brazil, it has been a somewhat common sight for over a year. You just can’t go to a mall without seeing at least two parked. I see them at least every other day in traffic.
You can blame Ford for this turn of events, since their EcoSport started the whole thing. Back in the 90s, somebody in Ford Brazil had the genius of seeing that the Euro Fusion of the times wouldn’t cut it here. Based on the Fiesta, the Euro Fusion was a tall wagon thingy, with a minivan-esque design (not like the Fusion you all know in America). Ford Brazil decide to butch it up and turn it into a jipe (that is how Brazilians used to call anything 4×4-like). A sort of jipe. One that was not big, didn’t really have any aptitude to go off-road or pull anything, but looked the part. Better yet, they discovered that they could raise the price over the regular Fiesta more than 40 percent and people would still buy it. The EcoSport simply doubled Ford’s market slice and improved their profits significantly. Undeniably a home run, or in Brazilian terms: Golaço! This is the formula that nearly every manufacturer is following now. Take your basic car, turn it into a CUV, make lots of money on very little investment for the improvements (raised height, cladding etc).
Then came the Renault Duster which did basically the same thing on the original Logan. Another star, another hit. Better yet, the French had the gall to take it to Europe to do battle with more refined opponents. Armed with a spectacular low price and a ride that was in no way offending, sales took off and the horizon event was reached. Like in Brazil, everybody scrambled to get a piece of the only growing pie in the market. Suddenly newspapers in their business sections and car magazines on both sides of the Atlantic started posting pictures and news of CUVs that may or not happen. The only thing you read about is the upcoming mini-SUVs. Renault Captur! Honda something or other! The Chevy anti-EcoSport was spotted somewhere int the world! VW confirms the Taigun (smaller than Tiguan) for next year! BMW will build the X1 in its new Brazilian factory! New factories are needed to keep up with demand! Sales! Money! Margins!
What does all that mean? Death to the station wagon for one. VW’s small Parati, a perennial Brazilian favorite, is dead. Fiat’s Palio Weekend has no substitute planned. In Europe, no more Clio or 208 station wagon. The really mini minivans are going too. The Chevy/Opel Meriva has already died, the Fiat Idea will soon join it.
And damn the enthusiasts. Or not. In America they talk and talk of the mythical brown, diesel, station wagon, but none buy them. In Brazil and other places outside the USA, all they want to see is that new shiny CUV in their garage. To them it’ll be a symbol of their success. The jacked up, ill-handling (comparing to a car), low capacity (comparing to a BOF SUV) will continue its sale rise.
How long? That’s anybody’s guess. I wouldn’t bet against the surging wave though. It is just gaining strength. If my wife and her friends (not to mention many of their husbands) have their way, the rise of the mini CUV will continue until there’s a least one in every family’s garage.