By on August 11, 2017

Jeep Cherokee

Not to sound overly patriotic or offend my Canadian coworkers, but United States is responsible for giving the world so much greatness that it’s difficult not to get a little misty eyed when I stop to think about it.

America’s long history of inventiveness has blessed the globe with modern marvels like sunglasses, chewing gum, kitty litter, the atomic bomb and, of course, sport utility vehicles. While the atomic bomb doesn’t get much broad praise these days, the rest of the aforementioned items are exceptionally popular outside the nation’s borders — especially SUVs and their bastard offspring, the crossover.

In fact, they’ve been such a runaway success that SUVs accounted for over 25 percent of all European passenger vehicle sales in 2016. That’s up from 21 percent in 2015 and there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon. Sport utility vehicles are expected to surpass a third of the region’s new vehicle market by 2020. Assumedly, America’s own SUV sales will be hovering around 100 percent by then — maybe more. But let’s not discount how crossover-crazy the rest of the globe has become or forget to remind ourselves that most of the world’s best-selling SUVs aren’t exactly “Made in America.” 

“It’s a global phenomenon that started in the U.S, spread to Europe and China and is now shaping emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Southeast Asia,” said Felipe Munoz, a global analyst for JATO Dynamics told Automotive News Europe.

This year, automakers are forecast to sell more than 4 million SUVs in Europe, which would push the market share past 28 percent and debunk the Western notion that Europe is a continent filled entirely with adorable vintage hatchbacks and small homes with ugly wallpaper.

China is even crazier for SUVs. According to figures from the Chinese Association Of Automobile Manufacturers, SUVs accounted for roughly 40 percent of the 2017 market’s 4.5 million total sales. That figure only accounts for the first half of the year, but it is at pace to result in a number many times higher than in 2011.

Since U.S. sales statistics typically place crossovers, SUVs, and pickups (which America also invented) into one big category, truck sales amassed a 60.7 percent share of 2016’s 17.5 million deliveries. Crossovers represented 33.8 percent the national total, creeping up from just 16.8 percent in 2007.

If you’re wondering why everyone seems to love them so much, automakers wonder the same thing. While their surging popularity initially seemed to wane as gas prices surged, they returned stronger than ever. They also returned in more shapes and sizes, meaning it was easier for customers to rationalize paying more for something they didn’t necessarily need.

“Prices are led by what consumers will pay, and clearly they’re valuing SUV robustness, the driving position, the big wheels, or they wouldn’t be buying them in the way they are,” Citroën CEO Linda Jackson told Automotive News Europe. “Clearly, SUVs are very profitable for any manufacturer,” she said.

Citroën was one of the few manufacturers without a comprehensive sport utility lineup and it’s funky little fleet hasn’t been able to see the kind of gains SUVs almost guarantee an automaker. It released the C3 Aircross earlier this year and plans to introduce more SUV/Aircross variants as it begins shying away from MPVs.

It’s not really Citroën’s fault for being behind the times, though. Not everyone in Europe could have possibly seen this trend coming because few North Americans did, either. A lot of automakers have been caught with their pants down. While most companies have fleshed out their lineups to include plenty of high-riding options, getting into segments early and playing with a complete deck has proved a massive advantage. The Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, and Honda CR-V are all doing just fine, but even old-school body-on frame SUVs appear to be enduring the market slowdown rather nicely.

However, in Europe there are concerns that the growing outrage toward diesel-powered vehicles will severely hinder SUV growth, as that’s the dominant engine. Automakers are trying to mitigate this by accelerating electrification efforts and keeping fuel economy high (because EU fuel prices definitely will be). But, even if they fail, it’s not going to be enough to kill the segment. People are already paying extra money for SUVs when a simple hatchback would suffice, so there’s no reason they won’t spend a few extra dollars, pounds, euros, or yuan for a gasoline-powered SUV if diesels vanish.

The only thing likely to ever stop the SUV’s momentum is for it to become passé or so ubiquitous that we don’t really regard them as “different” anymore.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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50 Comments on “The Sport Utility Vehicle: America’s Gift That Keeps on Giving...”


  • avatar
    danio3834

    I’ve heard that crossovers are becoming more popular than sedans. Can anyone confirm this?

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    That Jeep Grand Cherokee, particularly in mid-trim guise with the Pentastar and the 2014+ MY 8-speed transmission, is the greatest SUV ever produced on a value basis (being as or more capable, refined, roomy, comfortable, reliable, foul-weather capable, etc) than some SUVs costing as much as 2x more) in the history of SUVs.

    I’m not exaggerating in the least, either.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I just ordered a Summit. With the Hemi, though. Walnut brown with copper brown interior.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Of course not, who could exaggerate when talking about the wonderfulness of FCA SUVs?

      Anyone who doesn’t think so highly of them must’ve driven a rebuilt total by mistake. Its impossible to not love them.

      • 0 avatar
        dmoan

        Wonderfulness and FCA never go hand in hand unless you describe all wonderful things that can go wrong in FCA product. In my neighborhood there is 2 Cherokee (incl my wife) and 3 GC all of them 14-17 and they been plagued with more issues than I have seen with any of the cars I have owned.

        • 0 avatar
          ahintofpepperjack

          It’s’ fascinating to me how some people can have nearly 0 issues with FCA products, and yet others “know somebody” who have been plagued with issues.

          My close family has been Mopar-Loyal for 15+ years now. I have owned a 1989 Comanche, 1993 Cherokee (with over 300k!), 1996 Grand Cherokee, 2000 Grand Cherokee, and currently a 2015 Challenger. All of these vehicles have been reliable. The only vehicle I had minor issues with was the 2000 Grand Cherokee (Transmission Speed sensor, and CV axles).

          My mother has leased a new jeep every 3 years since her 2004 Grand Cherokee. Absolutely 0 issues in all these vehicles.

          My Grandfather has purchased a new Grand Cherokee every 4-5 years since 1999. He had one of the early Pentastar models with the bad engine, Chrysler bought it back from him to have their engineers inspect it. He also had a blend door fail causing cold air to enter the passenger side in the winter. And that’s it.

          I personally have experience with well over 10 different FCA vehicles with a combined mileage of over 500k. They have all been great vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      ACCvsBig10

      Its basically the same price point as a v6 midsize sedan. if your gunna spend 32-36k on a vehicle might as pick the one with the most utility even though a sedan will offer more legroom.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “roomy”

      Nope.

      “reliable”

      Compared to lease-queen Germans, yes. Compared to something like a GX/4Runner? Absolutely not.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Seems like nuclear weapons are becoming more popular at the same time as CUVs. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences, bro.

  • avatar

    and gave us the Chemtrails pictured.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I totally would have bought a wagon to replace my ’04 Passat Wagon, but I bought a ’17 CR-V instead because there aren’t any affordable non-crossover wagons in the US market except the VW SportWagen, and I have no confidence in VW’s ability to remain a going concern in the US.

    There are lots of sedans where a wagon version would have been on my short-list, but those wagons either don’t exist here, or don’t exist at all.

    If I can’t have a wagon, a CUV makes more sense to me than a sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      @sirwired: totally agree. Don’t know what all the fuss is about. I clearly remember my family cars back to the late forties. I am driving what we did then (when we could afford it) with a couple alterations:

      The tires are bigger but the old ones had 16″ wheels;
      The gearshift disappeared from the column and showed up again on the floor;
      I don’t get stuck in the pasture anymore because I have 4wd;
      The engine went from I6 or V8 to a V6.
      It stopped breaking much. Last tuneup 3years ago, not 3 months, and,
      I set a little higher but not much.

      Now it comes from Japan (or somewhere else, not Detroit) and says 4runner in a couple places.

      I think sales are exploding because of the utility. At least that’s the case for me.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Instead of looking at market trends in terms of SUVs/CUVs versus sedans, one could as easily consider 5-door hatchbacks (and “wagons”), including small cars, versus all other styles; in that case, it seems to me that it’s really the rest of the world that has influenced U.S. trends over the past ~10 years, not the other way around.

  • avatar
    Null Set

    Don’t forget, we also gave the world the cocktail, the detective story, the comic strip and twerking. All your base, Canada.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    I seriously would like an SUV with the outside tire diameter of 30 inches. Any more, and the whole wheel gets progressively more difficult to replace. It should mount on a wheel with a rim diameter of 16 or 17 inches, in order to allow for a meaningful air-down. Unfortunately, it’s getting difficult to find so-called SUVs or CUVs with these parameters.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      The Laredo trim GCs are quite reasonable in this regard. If I were buying one, I’d try to get a leather trimmed Laredo with the small wheels (is this even possible), and a version of Quadra-trac II (the one with low range), and get my hands on factory skid plates. Not sure if there’s an optional transmission cooler option that’s part of some offroad package or not, but that’d be nice as well.

      4Runner Trails and SR5s have perfectly rationally sized wheels/tires for the task at hand IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        That task being driving to the mall? Since that is what 95% of them are used for, at least by the first owners. Who are the only ones who actually count.

        Though I do agree about the ridiculousness of modern wheel sizes. Wheels should be big enough to cover the brakes and no bigger, as a general rule.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          You don’t need a longitudinal RWD layout and 240hp at the wheel to go to the mall, either, but that is what 95% of new German sports sedans are employed to do and I don’t see you getting cute about that discrepancy :)

          What a vehicle is engineered to do and how the majority of its owners utilize it are separate issues. I’m glad Toyota defied the 95% by putting fat walled tires on the 4Runner because that means I didn’t have to change anything.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Actually, I would say that a German sedan (or wagon as the case may be) is engineered just about perfectly for getting to a Mall swiftly and comfortably. That is afterall, exactly what they are FOR. 130mph is just the daily commute to the average German BMW driver. And while we might not do it quite as quickly on this side of the pond, that the added capability makes it that much safer and nicer to drive is a nice bonus. As is the fact that they don’t embarrass themselves at the occasional fun day at the racetrack. I don’t need 230hp at all – but that was the smallest engine they offered at the time.

            But using a truck that is engineered to go offroad exclusively to go to the mall is a bit silly, don’t you think? You could buy something that is engineered to be a whole lot more comfortable and capable on a road if it never is intended to leave it. A Highlander, for example. Having been had the displeasure of being stuck with a rental 4runner, I am sure it is a wonderful vehicle to cross the tundra in, but driving around suburbia in one kind of sucks. I actually feel the same way about Porsches that never do more than putter back and forth to work. But at least, they are doing more-or-less what they are engineered to do, just slowly.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Of course it’s silly to use an off-road oriented vehicle solely on pavement. It’s also silly to use an Autobahn-tuned sports sedan in stop-and-go traffic while fiddling with your phone.

            This isn’t a dig at you, I’m quite certain you appreciate the advantages of your RWD BMW. But someone commuting in a 4Runner is no sillier than someone commuting in a 328. Both represent conspicuously underutilized potential.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            How is commuting in a 328i underusing it’s potential? That is exactly what the car is designed for! It’s not a racecar, and as others love to point out, it is slower in straight line acceleration than a V6 Camry. It’s just a nicer place to be at a higher price point, and more capable of doing things other than going fast 0-60 than that V6 Camry.

            A 328i is only considered “sporting” because historically most American and Japanese cars were wallowing barges. I just consider it to drive like a car should.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Other half of my argument:

            As for commuting in a 4Runner. You have a truck that is jacked up high in the air, so it doesn’t handle well. Because it is optimized for off-road, it doesn’t ride well. It doesn’t steer well, and because it is extremely heavy to be rugged enough to survive off-road, and has tires that are designed to work off-road it doesn’t stop or corner well. It uses a ridiculous amount of gas hauling all that unused capability around. Because it is body-on-frame, it has relatively little space inside compared to a comparably sized CUV. Everything about it that makes it great off-road makes it worse on pavement.

            There is a reason almost all of the trucks like the 4Runner have disappeared, they pretty much suck at doing what people actually use them for. A few people may whine that they can’t take an Explorer hunting anymore, but it is a hugely better CAR than the old BoF ones were.

            In contrast, everything about a “sports sedan” that makes it a nice place to be on the Autobahn makes it a nicer place to be wherever you are driving.

            So yes, using a 4Runner just to go to the Mall is a lot sillier than using a 328i just to drive to your office.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            If you think a 328, with its crap rock-hard seats with no lateral bolstering and cheap vinyl, moaning unrefined turbo-4, $500 battery replacements, expensive run-flat tires, excessive running costs as it ages, and catastrophic depreciation before it ages is better positioned to mall crawl than one of the better mainstream appliances…then drive the 328 and enjoy it without thinking of the fiscal hemorrhage or wasted potential. I’ll drive the 4Runner and enjoy it without think of the oingo-boingo suspension motions and fuel use.

            One bit of rhetoric I need to correct, though: “So yes, using a 4Runner just to go to the Mall is a lot sillier than using a 328i just to drive to your office”

            Not office. Nail salon. Or Starbucks. That better suits the average buyer demographic.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Whatever mate. Enjoy your 4Runner.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Khrodes come drive your Bimmer on our downtown Indy roads, it will be eaten alive in short order and you’ll be spending quite a bit on replacement tires, rims, balljoints and control arm bushings. A 4Runner SR5 will in turn shrug it off, year after year, for a decade or more. That’s why non-offroad users buy these things. The same applies beyond the bad pavement scenario. A 3 series will be BHPH fodder with a peeling headliner, cracked cowl trim, and a laundry list of DTCs before the 4Runner even loses 50% of its initial purchase price in value.

            How’s that for a good reason to buy something “offroad oriented” like that?

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Dude – I live in *MAINE*. Trust me, our roads terrible too – and the speeds are a lot higher than in downtown Indianapolis. Been there a number of times, that is where the Rhodes part of my family is from. Never a problem, as I am perfectly capable of avoiding potholes. All it takes is leaving adequate following distance and paying some small amount of attention. Potholes and such don’t run out in front of you like squirrels. But I guess if you drive like the typical soccer Mom, you might as well drive a tank.

            My wagon is holding it’s value quite nicely, thanks. A stickshift RWD wagon gets just as much of the resale stupid tax as any Toyota product. Lot’s of people who want them who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy them new. It’s also been more reliable than my Mother’s Prius V, for what that bit of data is worth.

            Funny how these conversations always devolve into “your BMW is going to fall apart and bankrupt you, na na na na na”, yet none of the six of them I have owned have done that. The first four were well over 10yo and 100K miles when purchased too. The third one is still in the family, so to speak, owned by a friend who has well over a quarter million on it now. Runs like a train, but the tin worm has made it’s mark. Of course, it is 31 years old and from New England. I fully expect to keep this one forever. There is nothing out there to replace it with.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            ” It uses a ridiculous amount of gas hauling all that unused capability around. Because it is body-on-frame, it has relatively little space inside compared to a comparably sized CUV.”

            In my experience, the 5th gen 4Runner’s real world fuel economy falls exactly in the range of current Midsize CUVs (my apples to apples comparison is a 3.5L Ford Explorer AWD). Both got 21mpg in a predominantly highway trip. Looking at the specs comparing total internal capacity compared to exterior footprint, the 4Runner again holds it own against the Explorer, the only “win” for the Explorer being a functional third row. With the second row in place, the 4Runner has more cargo space, with all seats down, the 4Runner retains its advantage. Same applies in a comparison to Toyota’s own Highlander. Both crossovers do have better headroom than the 4Runner.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            ” as I am perfectly capable of avoiding potholes. All it takes is leaving adequate following distance and paying some small amount of attention. Potholes and such don’t run out in front of you like squirrels. ”

            This will only get you so far. Believe me, I dodge them as best as possible to in my old 4Runner no less. But some sections in spring are just an inescapable moon-scape. You’re gonna hit stuff, full stop. Local shops make a killing on replacement rims and tires in the spring time, this year my wife’s Camry fell victim, on fairly adequately side-walled 17 inch wheels no less. Don’t give me that “I’ll just dodge them all with my superior corner carving BMW” stuff.

            People wouldn’t get on your case if you didn’t have this smugness in looking down on people driving SUVs for whatever perceived sense of superiority, when you yourself drive the very definition of disposable and under-engineered European cars.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Somehow I have managed to not bend a wheel in 30+ years of driving in just as bad a moonscape. Shops here also make a killing on such things. has nothing to do with driving a BMW and everything to do with paying attention.

            I simply believe in using the tool that is appropriate for the job. As do most consumers evidently, as sales of non-premium BoF SUVs are all but non-existent. They morphed into cars and sold even bigger numbers. Shocking, that.

            As I have said many times, if you need a truck, you need a truck. But very few people need a truck compared to the number of trucks sold. Many people want a truck. And that is great, if you want a truck, buy a truck, enjoy your truck. I reserve the right to think you are silly if you are using a truck to do car things exclusively.

            We simply need to agree that we have differing ideas of what constitutes “underengineered”. Do you know how many 15+ year old Toyota trucks exist in my neck of the woods? Almost none. Because they rot to pieces here, fail inspection, and get junked. 15+ year old BMWs are a dime a dozen. Doesn’t matter how “reliable” it is if it snaps in half due to rust. Hopefully the modern ones are better. I’d say our smugness cancels out.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            “People wouldn’t get on your case if you didn’t have this smugness”

            Bingo.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            ” has nothing to do with driving a BMW and everything to do with paying attention.”

            There’s that smugness we talked about…

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Dang comment editing time window:

            Try driving on Eastbound 10th Street in the spring from the area of the hospitals. There is just no “dodging” a totally ruined road like that. I learned my pothole avoidance from the masters of that art in Siberia, when I say it’s undodgeable it’s undodgeable!

            There’s not a whole lot of older BMWs in my neck of the woods, a decent amount of the E90 bodystyle around, some E39s and E46s, some E38s in the hood. We get less salt on the road in general compared to more snowy locales, still lots of 1st gen Tacos around (they were nowhere as popular as domestics around here in the first place), and they fetch a mint relative to their age and mileage. Other trucks suffer from salt issue as well, my Ranger has had 3 of the spring hangers replaced, I’m getting ready to replace the final one, and shock mounts, and welding on a new core support since the old one rusted off by the body mounts. The plastics used in BMWs from the 90s right through the end of the 2000s both underhood (think coolant expansion tanks and such) and on the exterior of the vehicles (cowl trim) really age incredibly poorly. The same for surface finishes of interior trim where that rubbery crap just comes off when you touch it, VWs and a 2000 Maxima I drove had the same issue actually, as did my wife’s old ’04 S60.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        This may be a good time for me to admit that I’m frail and barely capable of lifting a 17″ wheel with a tire. As it happens, I had to put a spare on less than a month ago, after a rock punctured my Duratrac. It even happened on a mapped road (a Forest Service road — what passes for our local National Forests grow on what can be described as bare rocks). This would not be an issue at all if I could bench 200 lbs. Obviously a bigger wheel can roll over a bigger obstacle!

  • avatar
    deanst

    SUVs and global warming – the gifts that keep on giving.

  • avatar
    shaker

    It’s wonderful that we aspire to drive vehicles that get <20MPG on a commute – just like the 1970's.

    The only fix is rapid hybridization of these things – the RAV-4 Hybrid being a great example – nearly doubling the city mileage rating.

    • 0 avatar
      jefmad

      My current car is a JGC with a Pentastar and 8 speed, my last car was an E90 BMW 328i X drive. Currently there is a 1.5 mile per gallon difference in my average fuel mileage between the two vehicles, and if anything the BMW should be further ahead because I lived in a more rural area when I had that car.
      Additionally, since I do not need to put premium in the JGC my total fuel bill has gone down since the approximately 8% reduction in fuel economy is more than offset by the 20% reduction in fuel cost per gallon.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Enjoy the fuel savings – but you would have saved more with a Highlander Hybrid, 18/35/25 (City/HWY/Combined) vs. 12/24/18 (Consumer Reports for newest models)

        But, gas is cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I have never seen a more pathetic “AWD” system than Toyota’s as implemented in their Hybrid Highlander/RX400h/Rav4. The traction control is very serious about preventing any sort of damage to the electric motor (as I understand it) and as such just cuts power severely and shuts down any sort of wheel spin. That’s not to say that it’s useless, but that in a tight spot it will most certainly let you down.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            Good point – that could be an issue that would limit the HH from being a good tow vehicle, too. I wish CR would evaluate these 4WD/AWD systems in their ratings.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    I believe you! I passed a Bentley SUV this morning. The Bentley Bentayga. My jaw hit the floor. Even Bentley is in the SUV game now.

    I thought it was a BMW X5 at first. But it had that Bentley crest and grill.


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