By on October 23, 2006

airflow22.jpgAs the launch of Ford’s new Edge illustrates, the Big Two Point Five’s next “great white-walled hope” is something called the “cross-over.” It’s not a traditional SUV and it’s not a road-hugging car. It could be a station wagon on stilts with [optional] four-wheel drive and maybe even a hybrid powerplant, but it’s definitely not for towing [much] or plugging [deep] mud or surmounting [any] boulders. From the waves of hype you’d think this less-than-genetically gifted half-breed was a revolutionary development. Actually, it’s a vehicle design from the second half of the last century.

Back in the day, automakers mounted an engine, transmission and wheels onto a metal framework (called a “ladder frame” for its shape). The bodywork was then attached to the frame, which carried all the weight. It was simple, sturdy and made customization easy; whether turning a Model-T into a pickup truck or putting a custom body on a $10k Duesenberg chassis. The problem with this early construction technique was simple enough: weight. It takes more fuel to motivate heavy than light.

The next big idea in auto body construction came courtesy the airplane industry, where weight-saving is mission critical (yes I know it’s really “mass” physics boy, back off). Instead of setting the body on a load-bearing frame, the frame is the body, and vice-versa. The substantial weight savings delivered by this so-called unitary construction technique allowed for smaller engines and reduced vibrations. The first mass-produced American car to incorporate these ideas (and airplane-like streamlining) was Chrysler’s Airflow. It was a car that many manufacturers copied, but very few people bought.

Despite the Airflow fiasco, unitary construction slowly began to win favor within the American automobile industry. The Big Three lagged behind smaller companies like Nash and Hudson; body-on-frame construction was more practical for yearly model changes (since only the shell had to change). Even so, Lincoln went unitary in 1958, and other models slowly followed. Many of the American cars (and even the revolutionary Mini) kept a separate frame mounting to hold the engine, even when their bodies went unitary. While construction methodology changed, there was no great shift in the type of cars being built.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Back in the ‘60’s, a team at Ford developed an idea for a people-carrier built on a unitary platform. As detailed in David Halberstam‘s “The Reckoning,” despite great customer survey results, they were never able to sell the vehicle internally. One reason: it needed a new (front wheel-drive) platform. A decade on, most of the Ford team had moved to Chrysler (who had the requisite platform). The minivan was born.        

While the minivan dented the ladder frame-based “conversion” market, the truck and van market remained the last great refuge of the old manufacturing technique (aside from the Ford Crown Victoria triplets). A ladder frame made it much easier to customize a chassis for special uses (delivery van, camper, flat bed, etc.). The extra weight involved was balanced by the need for additional strength for hauling/towing (which a commercial user actually needs). Plus, ladder frames are cheaper to build.

When SUVs began to take off in the late eighties, consumers discovered ladder frame construction’s weak points. The vehicles were heavy (i.e. thirsty), top-heavy (i.e. unstable), rode like trucks (of course) and interior space was not nearly as large as it appeared from the outside. The Big Three improved their truck’s brakes and fitted plusher interiors, but ladder frames ruled because, well, no one complained. And they’re cheap (i.e. more profitable).

Japanese automakers cashed-in on the SUV trend with whatever trucks they could muster. But they also saw a case for a small pseudo-SUV, especially in their own backyard. Toyota and Honda developed nearly parallel solutions on their small-car, unitary platforms: the RAV-4 and CR-V. The “uni-utes” found soon found fame and fortune on the other side of the Pacific. Eventually Honda and Toyota gave the same treatment to a family-size car, creating a macho brother to their mini-vans. Subaru already specialized in four-wheel drive wagons, so their Forester wasn’t much of a stretch (though interesting as a “missing link”).

While these “crossovers” couldn’t match their bigger brethren for towing or rock hopping, they carried more people for less gas and handle more like a car. In the last few years, The Big Two Point Five has finally responded, releasing a few crossovers to significant sales– without denting the existing competitors’ market share. And therein lies the problem with The Big Two Point Five’s desire to “cross over” into renewed prosperity: they’re not creating a new niche, they’re moving into an existing one. Sad to say, their track record in that regard leaves much to be desired. Besides, if you’re constantly changing your running shoes in the middle of a marathon, you may be quicker than you were, but you’ll also be last.

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99 Comments on “The Big Two Point Five: Crossing Over...”


  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    It’s all in the marketing. In the late 80s Honda and Toyota both had “tall wagons” based on the Civic and Tercel respectively, and both available with AWD. Neither of them were big sellers until they repackged them as the CR-V and the RAV-4 and marketed them as mini-utes. And the rest, as they say, is history.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    I wouldn’t call CR-V’s, Rav4’s, and similar mini-SUV’s from the mid-90’s crossovers. They’re a bit more like Jeep Wrangler – small, simple, inexpensive off-roaders. At least they’re not crossovers in the Edge kind of way.

    By the way, apart from a sexy body, how are crossovers different from a minivan?

    [Fat Bastard] I’m dead sexy. Look at my sexy body!

    I think the big three are stepping on the same rake a second time here. They’re going after another fashion fad, betting their money and future on it. Well, at least Ford and Chevy do it.

    What if it doesn’t work out? What if people will snap out of it way faster than it took them to snap out of the SUV craze?

    What if (god forbid) folks will start buying up minivans instead? Ford and GM have no credible minivan on hand, because they chose to ignore the stable segment (family sedans and minivans), and went after the quick money instead.

    Well, they’re at it again.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    CUV versus SUV is not really about technology, it’s about marketing and perception. Five or ten years ago the SUV was still the hottest vehicle in the country, so every — EVERY — manufacturer was falling over themselves to sell one. Companies that had trucks in their lineup made truck-based SUVs, and companies that did not instead did what they could and made car-based SUVs. The RAV4 and CR-V were marketed and perceived as SUVs . . . and as you said were probably as frequently maligned for their lack of towing capacity and off-road ability as they were praised for their improved ride and fuel economy. Even the luxury vehicles like those from Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus were marketed as SUVs . . .

    Only a few years ago the movement started to define a new type of vehicle that was not an SUV, but retained many of the benefits like high seating and AWD . . . call it a tall wagon, or a minivan on steroids, or what you will. These are now the CUVs we see, and this is still a relatively new segment.

    To look back now and decide that Toyota and Honda ‘invented’ the CUV years ago and the domestics are just now catching on is a totally revisionist view of history, IMO. They could have rejected the SUV label and the truck-like styling, but they did not . . . because they were and wanted to be SUVs. Same goes for the Ford Escape, also based on a car platform and around since 2000. Only with the past year and the extreme run-up in gas prices has the label of SUV become the kiss of death, thus the scramble to distance every vehicle from that label if possible.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    I really don’t understand these comments saying ‘the domestics are doing it again . . . putting all the eggs in one basket . . . following a fad’. First of all, why do you think that all the eggs are going in one basket? Just because the latest vehicle to be launched is a CUV? Reality check . . . you can’t launch all your products all at once . . . especially when you’re trying to get yourself out from behind the eight ball (where you’ve put yourself through your own bad decisions, undeniably). Something has to be launched first . . . it just so happens that in this case it’s a CUV. What about the Fusion, which launched last year. That’s a car, last time I looked. Obviously you forgot about that.

    And regarding ‘fads’ . . . what exactly do you think drives a large portion of sales? FADS! Find what’s hot, make it, and sell it . . . surely you realize that those who fail to do this suffer greatly. As an example, think about MP3 players . . . they were around, but not until the iPod became a ‘fad’ did the sales really take off. Being a fad is not automatically a synonym for being a bad idea.

    Oh . . . and please retain some perspective on the ‘SUV’ fad. It seems that those things sold like proverbial hotcakes for nearly 20 years, and made billions and billions of dollars in profits for a whole lot of companies. Just because they are now vehicula non grata does not mean they were not a good idea.

  • avatar

    Interesting point: the CUV came from the Japanese manufacturers' inability to build a "proper SUV?" There are other questions more worthy of debate. Was the Audi Allroad a CUV? Does the mid-elevated Ford 500 qualify? Why do Americans feel the need to sit so damn high anyway? A fals imrpession of safety? I reckon Al-Pharazon is getting closer to the truth when he says that the new breed of CUV's are like minivans on stilts. How great is that? And it's still true that The Big Two Point Five have some catching up to do in this whole genre.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    “I really don’t understand these comments saying ‘the domestics are doing it again . . . putting all the eggs in one basket . . . following a fad’.”

    Could it be because other than the Edge, Ford has NO new products in the pipeline until 2008? Or because every press release about the Edge identifies it as “the most important vehicle Ford has ever introduced?” Or because Ford has let their minivan and passenger car business all but die on the vine while they focused all their energy on whatever the fad of the moment was, whether it was pickup trucks, SUVs, “luxury” SUV blingmobiles, or (now) crossovers?

    GM and Chrysler are doing the same to a lesser exent. They’ve all but abandoned the passenger car market to the import brands while they’ve been chasing whatever the latest market trend happens to be. Now they’re struggling to play catch-up. The American car industry was built on innovation and market leadership. Now it’s all about copying and market followership. Not the best way to succeed in todays marketplace.

  • avatar
    SS3

    I think that this “fad” will lose steam quicker than some think. I say that because I listened to what joe average was saying at the last Detroit Auto Show – “they all look pretty much alike”. I heard that repeatedly at the show, and I think its quite true. I think that ‘sameness’ will begin to wear thin, just as it has for the ubiquitous minivan. Once all the soccer moms have one they will want something different. Sure, there will be a base market for CUVs, but the herd will move on to something trendier. Shooting brakes?

  • avatar
    ChartreuseGoose

    Interesting point: the CUV came from the Japanese manufacturers’ inability to build a “proper SUV.

    *cough*Land Cruiser*wheeze*Nissan Patrol*cough*Hilux*hack*.

    Man, that sip of coffee sure went down the wrong tube. Ahem. Sorry.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    The SUV was neither new nor unique when Ford introduced the Explorer in 1990 or so, and it was one of their best sellers (if not their best seller overall) for most of the 90’s. Automotive writers and readers love things that are “new!” “Improved!” and “special!” but most buyers just want something they can depend on, maybe with a little flash. I think this is the market Ford is shooting for with the Fusion and the soon-to-come Fairlane.

    In fact, a cursory look at the automotive market over the last couple of decades should prove to any observer that the “next big idea” is about the last thing American car buyers want. Time and time again, auto companies have introduced something that is unique, and niche-creating, and most of them fail miserably (Pontiac Aztek and Subaru Baja, to name two.) Ford is interested in satisfying the paying customers, not in pleasing auto critics, which is really as it should be.

  • avatar

    Minus $5.8b this quarter says Ford has lost that knack, but good.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Interesting point: the CUV came from the Japanese manufacturers’ inability to build a “proper SUV.

    *cough*Land Cruiser*wheeze*Nissan Patrol*cough*Hilux*hack*.

    Man, that sip of coffee sure went down the wrong tube. Ahem. Sorry.

    Nissan Pathfinder
    Toyota 4Runner
    Mitsubishi Montero/Pajero
    Isuzu Rodeo
    Suzuki Samurai
    ….
    The Japanese have been building “proper” SUVs since just after WWII, so I don’t get this analysis.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Minus $5.8b this quarter says Ford has lost that knack, but good.

    Satisfying the paying customers (as opposed to the auto critics) is their intent. As to how well they achieve that goal, that’s really another issue.

  • avatar
    larryj

    is it just me? you guys know the history better than I but all I can think about w/r/t the “new CUV” is…

    AMC Eagle.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Of course its just marketing. One of the driving forces of the SUV craze was that it had the utility of a minivan but was way more macho and seemed safe. So the next step is “SUV lite”. Less weight, same passanger and cargo room but still tall and macho enough that Mrs. Soccer Mom still feels safe and Mr. Suburbia still feels manly enough.

    Is it yet another fad? Maybe but unless the American psyche changes or gas prices go to $4 there will be a market for large vehicles.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    Honda, however, has always refused to build ladder-frame vehicles. (Even their “pickup” is a unibody-on-frame, with the ladder frame being used to add extra rigity to the unibody).

    So Honda’s partial invention of the crossover really WAS because they can’t and won’t make a proper truck. Toyota was simply taking advantage of an existing platform.

    I think “Wagon on Stilts” is a better description, over minivan-on-stilts, for although they have high rooflines, the high floor level puts a big squish on cargo room.

    Look at it this way. The Fit claims 90 cubic feet of passanger volume, 20 cubic feet of cargo volume. The vastly larger (physically, and on your wallet) CR-V is 103/35. The Mazda5 (a micro minivan) is 98/44.

    Why is the fit so close to the CR-V in interior while being so much physically smaller? Simple, the Fit is built like a shrunken Minivan: High roof but low floor. While the CR-V is a wagon on stilts, the roof may be high but so is the floor.

    Likewise, compare a Pilot to an Odyssey. The high floor design cuts out a huge amount of interior volume.

  • avatar

    On the other hand, keep in mind that the Japanese “crossover” in the US primarily came about due to one heck of a marketing error. Think back to the Subaru (can’t remember the model name – SVX?) GT coupe, flat six motor, the real strange side windows, etc. Subaru was already cash strapped enough that they only developed an automatic transmission for the car.

    Then it tanks, primarily due to one heck of a error on timing (bring out a GT car when the market wants SUV’s), and now Subaru’s really in the financial soup. OK, tart up the bigger AWD station wagon to make it look butch, name it the Outback, call it a SUV – er, Sport Utility Wagon, and add lots of Paul Hogan with some very carefully chosen comparisons (the kind of which would have this group livid if GM was doing it).

    Bingo! A new marketing niche, and suddenly life is good for Subaru again.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    is it just me? you guys know the history better than I but all I can think about w/r/t the “new CUV” is…

    AMC Eagle.

    Sure, but even the Eagle (which I think was introduced in 1979 or so) was predated by the Subaru 4wd wagon (76.) And the Eagle wasn’t an all-new vehicle (as the current CUVs are), it was just a jacked up version of the (I think) Hornet wagon.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Well here is the next fad I want, Sportbacks. Sportbacks with clamshell doors and a sloping hatch, sportbacks with four doors and a sloping hatch, sportbacks that are supper low wagons with a slightly less sloping hatch. The closest I’ve seen so far is the Mitsubishi Sportback concept in Frankfurt in 2005 and the C Metisse (sp) in this years Paris show.

    I want everything I like about a sports car, low slung, great power, agility, sexy sheet metal with room to carry four or five people and make a Costco run. The best thing out there right now is the Mazda RX8 but I want better!

  • avatar
    airglow

    Alex Rashev:
    October 23rd, 2006 at 10:03 am
    I wouldn’t call CR-V’s, Rav4’s, and similar mini-SUV’s from the mid-90’s crossovers. They’re a bit more like Jeep Wrangler – small, simple, inexpensive off-roaders. At least they’re not crossovers in the Edge kind of way.

    By the way, apart from a sexy body, how are crossovers different from a minivan?

    [Fat Bastard] I’m dead sexy. Look at my sexy body!

    I think the big three are stepping on the same rake a second time here. They’re going after another fashion fad, betting their money and future on it. Well, at least Ford and Chevy do it.

    What if it doesn’t work out? What if people will snap out of it way faster than it took them to snap out of the SUV craze?

    What if (god forbid) folks will start buying up minivans instead? Ford and GM have no credible minivan on hand, because they chose to ignore the stable segment (family sedans and minivans), and went after the quick money instead.

    Well, they’re at it again.

    News Flash Alex!!

    The Minivan segment is far from stable; it actually appears to be in terminal decline. The minivan segment will probably never again hit one million units. Where the bottom is, no one knows. I’d guess minivans will probably stabilize in the 700K to 800K range 5 years from now. But with the new, almost-as-big-as-a-minivan CUV’s coming from GM and others, the minivan market could bottom out as low as 500K or even less. Minivans have been cursed with the “Mommy-mobile” stigma and it seems to be permanent. A friend of mine had to buy his wife an MDX when his Grand Caravan got too old, because she refused to get another minivan.

    The only segment destined to remains smaller than minivans ten years from now is the subcompact class so many TTAC members seem to think is a great place for the big 3 to spend their scarce resource dollars. Barring very expensive fuel, say 5$/Gal or so, Americans will never buy very small cars in large numbers. We drive too far and are too big and fat to ever voluntarily fold ourselves into small cars in large numbers.

    I will almost surely buy a CUV as my next vehicle if I loose my company car. The combination of styling, available AWD, utility and performance/efficiency balance is very appealing. Bicycles, skis and other bulky gear fit a lot better in a CUV than any car, even a large car like my company Impala. My wife already owns one (Saturn Vue) and I’m positive they will be the fastest growing segment by far over the next 5 years. Ford is making the right bet on the right market segment. The Edge will be a Home Run as will GM’s large CUV’s. If Ford executes the Fairlane concept correctly, they could have another huge hit with it.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    I have heard over and over and over again people talk about car “platforms.” What, exactly, is a “platform?” How can one vehicle be based on another vehicle if everything is a “unibody”? If it is possible to have a “unibody” sedan and a “unibody” truck to be based on the same “platform,” then what is a “unibody?”

    It would be easy for me to understand that different types of vehicles are based on the same “platform” if different body types where lowered onto the same (platform, chassis), but we are being told that this is no longer being done with most vehicles. I wish somebody could clarify this for me so that I could understand it once and for all.

  • avatar
    mikey

    The crossover is not for me.It wants to be everything for everybody and it can,t be done.
    I can,t find anything in the G.M. lineup to replace the JIMMY
    I can,t pull a trailer with a Torrent,the Yukon is too big for my wife to drive,I don’t like the looks or the price of the price of the Trailblazer/Envoy.
    The Jimmy/Blazer ladder frame, big thirst and all,fits the bill to a tee.GM in thier infinite wisdom dumps them and replaces them with a crossover,that.IMHO is not an SUV or a passenger car or for that matter a mini van.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Geez.
    AMC Eagle does look a lot like the current CUV’s. The SX4 version actually beats them all for hotness. Hell, touch it up a bit, give it a modern drivetrain, and the 2-door would probably sell today.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    Frank W . . . up until just now I hadn’t fully realized that you were the TTAC resident Ford basher! :-)

    Why is the Edge “the most important vehicle Ford has ever introduced”? First and foremost . . . hyperbole. You should know that when the type of people who say those things say them, they mean “most important since the last most important, and until the next most important”. The statement is meaningless. Second . . . this is the first vehicle launch since your Deathwatch has started. Not to give you guys too much credit, mind you . . . the point being that it’s the first since the sh*t really hit the fan and the company was revealed to be in such trouble. At this point, to release a POS vehicle would be akin to suicide. Third, it’s the first launch that has any real connection to some of the changes that have happened at the company to try and fix the underlying problems. It’s not the most important because it’s a CUV and the CUV is the next big thing.

    Also, while 2007 would be better, 2008 is not really that far off. There are significant updates to the heavy duty F Series soon (a real bread-and-butter vehicle for the company), and other updates of varying degrees coming as well. Totally new products are the ones a bit further out, but that’s part of the old ‘hard to make an oil tanker turn on a dime’ problem . . . sad but true.

    I didn’t realize that pickup trucks were a fad. That’s really a new one to me. F-Series has been the top overall vehicle in the country for what . . . the past 20 years? Followed by some GM competitor as number 2, right? Pet rocks and pickup trucks, cut from the same cloth . . .

    Heck, even the SUV ‘fad’ lasted about 20 years.

    IMO you weaken your admittedly valid arguments by trying to push them that extra foot or yard or mile. OK . . . they should not have been greedy and focused all their investment on various truck designs (that were undeniably making money by the boatload for many years). That was short sighted. Valid critique. But trying to spin it as ridiculously chasing every short-lived fad to hit? That’s a bit much . . .

    RF . . . not sure if your comment was meant to be ‘snarky’, but I didn’t mean to say the RAV or CR-V were failed attempts to build a ‘proper’ SUV. The point was that regardless of what the vehicle actually was, it was marketed as an SUV. Oh, and while a 500 was not a CUV, the Freestyle definitely was. In another life, it would have just been a station wagon version of the 500. It was not to my memory marketed as an SUV . . . I think it was an implicit CUV perhaps.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    allen5h, for one, it’s got a lot to do with being able to go down the same line in a traditional ‘non-flexible’ manufacturing plant. The vehicles has specific ‘hardpoints’ that are common, which define the basic dimensions of the line. So you can stretch a vehicle longer, but only change the width by a small amount since one preserves the geometry of the assembly line while the other does not. This in turn helps define the range of bits you can strap on, as only certain powertrains will fit within the constraints that are set. This overall package is essentially the ‘platform’.

  • avatar
    chaz_233

    They are putting all their eggs in one basket. In the case of GM: they gave up on large RWD sedans, station wagons, affordable RWD sports cars, minivans, vans, small trucks. Now they are giving up on larger FWD sedans and on midsize SUVs. What’s coming in their sted? Crossunders. It’s typical for them to do away with an entire production line just because sales are decreasing for a few months. You’ll never see our friends from that little island doing that. Granted that GM has RWD cars on the way, now that they are popular again- or rather, were getting media hype some time ago. Are crossunders just a fad? Probably not, they’re here to stay. They are fad in so far is the car makers are trying to convince us that crossunders are the next big thing- which they aren’t. And at some point the media will catch crossunder fever and the madness will begin and eventually fade away. What makes it particularly fad-ish is that it’s the auto industry that’s trying to engineer crossunder hysteria. There’s no indication that the market is clamoring for these things, the media is relatively quiet on the issue, probably because it’s not Toyoduh behind it. I agree that they are just funky minivans made to look SUV-ish. The thing is that the Big 3 should not give up on other segments, but given the size of these companies, they should be able to work on several models at once, and be able to absorb slowing trends better than just to discontinue a platform altogether.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    The Minivan segment is far from stable; it actually appears to be in terminal decline.

    I wouldn’t call it terminal. Just like wagons, they’re here to stay, however ugly and unmanly they are. And just like wagons or pick-up trucks, you can always charge a healthy premium for them, because people who need them will cough up the dough regardless. A well-cared for line of minivans, like Sienna or Odyssey, is a stable source of cash. You downsize it a bit every now and then, but the demand never falls off the cliff like it did for sports coupes in mid-90’s. There are always reasonable people with kids who are smart enough to realize that minivan is what fits the bill best. You know, the kind of people who make this world turn.
    I know I’m getting a minivan when I’ll get kids. No way around it.

    Crossover is too small, full-size passenger van is too unsafe and thirsty, short school bus is too big, and I can’t just put kids in the front trunk of my MR2, christmas tree on the passenger seat sticking out of the t-top hole, and wife in the back trunk, and call it a day :)

    Minivans are a necessity. CUV aren’t. There’s nothing a CUV can do that a good wagon can’t. And don’t bring in the offroading part, because those who do offroading can usually afford to get an old beat-up wrangler as a second car.

  • avatar

    Nice writeup. Let me address one small part of it:

    Towing.

    The whole ‘I need a big-ass truck because I tow a boat three times a year’ logic is so *completely* flawed.

    Let me illustrate. I lived in the UK for two years in the 1990s. I worked in London and lived out in the boonies (West Country) and rode a train every day to work. As such my family had need for just a single car. We bought a nice used Volvo 440td. For my fellow Americans who have never seen this model, it is a compact sedan very similar to a VW Jetta.

    My wife had a horse and we had the Volvo fitted with a towing hitch. On several occasions we’d rent a horse trailer for a weekend and haul the gigantic animal off to some corner of Great Britain. I did most of the driving so I can tell you that little Volvo did FINE pulling ~5000lbs of trailer and (occasionally moving) animal. The reason the compact sedan could tow what an American thinks requires a Ford Excursion?

    Diesel.

    Towing requires torque, and Diesels have mountains of torque, even small Diesels like the 1.9 litre oil burner in the Volvo 440. Why then do we need urban assault vehicles to do the same job? Perhaps here in America we need more Diesels?

    –chuck

  • avatar
    ZZ

    So do I get to feel special that I’ve ‘gone back to the roots’ of the CUV trend with my new, beater ’83 Tercel SR5 Wagon?

    Unrelatedly, what about the Jensen FF? I mean, if we’re going to talk about 4wd sedans, lets go waay back.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    Ar-Pharazon, I am still confused. Let’s talk about the Honda Odyssey/Pilot, both roll of the same asssembly line in Alabama.

    Does this mean that, for example, you could bolt on the driveline sub-assy (engine, tranny, driveline craddle) of the Odyssey onto a Pilot and vice-versa? In other words, if you could pick up both of these unibodies up with your hand and turn them upside down, would you see the same attachment points with the same geometry for driveline craddles, rear suspension componenets, etc?

    Or are these similarities not quite this complete, would it simply mean that the “hardpoints” that you refer to are the same hardpoints points that the moving assy line machine’s “fingers” attach themselves to the unibody as it moves the unibody in an elevated postiion along the assy line? (If so, then I can see how both vehicles would have to be the same width, but with slightly different lengths is so desired.)

    Thanx for all of your help!

  • avatar
    ash78

    My mom (age 59) epitomizes the “unintended tangent market” for all the cute-utes/crossovers. She’s had two RAV-4 models back-to-back, and is now driving an ’01 Passat Wagon. For the first 3 months in this car, it was just endless complaints about perceived windshield distortion (say what?) and lack of visibility (one of the best out there). She is in love with the Element and will probably buy one as her next car.

    For her, it literally comes down to sitting up high and not having to deal with a raked windshield. So basically all cars are out of the question if she had complete say in the decision.

    I’ve been predicting the resurgence of wagons for a while now, it’s just a matter of continuing to make them “cool” until enough of their legacy mentality goes away. They simply offer the best use of space for a given platform (barring a minivan, which is just a tall wagon), so I applaud the manufacturers that are offering them in increasing numbers. Still, there are several cars that would be a slam-dunk in my book, if only they offered a wagon–namely, the Hyundai Sonata and Acura TSX.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I’d propose that Crossovers are not a fad but a correction of the market. Crossover’s like the Highlander, Forrester, Murano and now Outlook are what we should have had 20 years ago instead of SUV’s.

    Explorers and so forth were purchased because there was nothing else offered that had the capacity Americans demanded. Note I didn’t say need.

    Body on frame SUV’s will be relegated to those that truly need the towing and off-road capacity and everyone else will migrate to Crossover’s and so forth.

    A note on the high seating position, it’s not just that there is a perceived sense of safety, it also allows for a higher vantage point to see more of the road as well as see over sedans and coupes.

    If the job is truly to haul people then a good mini-van is the best tool for the job. Currently a good mini-van does not include anything made by the Big 2.5.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    The correct solution is to be ready to sell at least one compelling product in every segment. And scale operation accordingly.

    It’s great to ride the wave of high demand stuff (pick ups, SUVs at all) when it is actually high, but when the market turns, it helps to have something ready in the segments that are heating up.

    It’s not like the competition has shown this is a bad idea. Want a big monster SUV from Toyota? Sequoia. Fuel miser? Yaris. Anything in between? We have it.

    But Toyota/Nissan/Honda/Hyiunday can do something the domestics can’t: scale production back. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why.

    It’s not like the big 2.5 have anything competitive in current hot segments though (and yes, it is my opinion, I recognize some of their models sell even though they are junk, still, I know, my opinion) But you can blame them for not being ready.

  • avatar
    htn

    Ash78 that is an interesting observation. I am in your Mom’s situation. I have been there and done that. 1969 2002, 1972 s80sl, 1985 928, 1989 5.0 mustang.

    I am now ready for a semi high end car with comfortable room for 4, relatively high seating positon and adequate storage room. Not a lot out there. Just saw an add for the new Lexus LS and it looks like a cartoon drawing of a ganster car. Slit windows and low profile a la recent DCM products.
    I would probably go for a Ford Freestyle but since I keep cars till the wheels fall off I am leery about the CV transmission.
    Looking at Audi but don’t need quattro or 300hp.

    What do I want? High seating so I can see over all the SUVs and Pickups. Stability and economy of a car not that of an SUV. Two rows of seats third row replaced by storage area.
    I guess Volvo xc90 might fit the bill but it has extra seats I don’t need. Might actually end up with Honda or Toyota minivan since the extra seats stow easily.
    Any suggestions from the audience?
    Howard

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    allen,

    I believe that the hardpoints do have more to do with how the unibody interfaces with the assembly line. These points can’t be moved without redesigning some aspect of the line, which is VERY costly in a traditional plant. Everything else is essentially shoehorned in around these points.

    Moving the mounting locations for the powertrain are not nearly as significant a deal (assuming they fit within the above constraints). You may in fact want to keep them the same so you can use some of the same PT installation scheme, which again is a cost save though not as much. This is why you will often see similar engines in vehicles on the same platform, i.e., a different displacement or perhaps different valvetrain but essentially the same block. But if you intend on using a different PT, then you would certainly be able to move mounting spots of course assuming you can package it, don’t make a change that invalidates crash, etc, etc.

    But I’m not a body engineer, nor a manufacturing engineer, so take your grains of salt accordingly.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Interesting story and comments. I am not a fan of SUV’s or CUV’s or whatever they are called now, but I can see uses for them. Pity that absolutely no one I know who has one of them uses it for anything else then commuting alone 10 times a week.

    I suppose its better to be piloting a 4000 lb car instead of a 5000 lb car, in the final anaylsis. But most people could probably get by in an electric bicycle (that’ s another rave tho).

    The last 25 years have seen most off shore manufacturers spend lot of time and effort makeing smaller lighter cars better… while the “big 2.5” as you call it, have been busy making very large heavy vehicles even larger and heavier. Tho I will never fault the highway ride of a Lincoln of Cadillac truck (it is transcendant), I am sure I will never spend the bucks to fuel one. Ever.

    So for the second time in 25 years, the “big 2.5” has cars that are way overweight and way too thirsty. Instead of spending some on r&d on small cars that are fun and cool, they build stupidly biger leather upholstered trucks whose market falls away like a calving iceberg when gas suddenly is a buck a gallon more more.

    Didn’t they see this? Do they have no soothsayers? How can people be expected to spend their hard earned money on a car that has absolutley no track record in the segment, instead of one that has been there for 25 years, AND earning awards for most of them? It boggles the mind.

    I am old enough to remember the first fuel crisis in the 70’s . I had a late 60’s brontosaurus sized Olds Delmont 88 with a huge sweet V8 engine that sucked gas faster then two teenagers sharing a soda.

    Suddenly I was driving really small, really fun cars with weird names like Fiat, Honda, Toyota, and having a blast doin it.

    The big three responded with the chevy vega, ford pinto.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    Or, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    Couple of comments:

    1) the Audi Allroad, IMHO, is the spiritual predecessor to the Porche Cayenne. In its day, the Allroad was high tech and went like a bat out of hell. It’s sin in the US market anyway, was that it was small when Americans wanted big.

    2) high seating position is becoming less and less relevant. There was a time when you could actually see over traffic in a SUV. Now, to do that, you HAVE to be in some of the biggest monster SUVs on the road.

    3) part of the SUV craze was always about image. You can still see it in the ads for them. Minivans and wagons do not conjure up visions which can compare to plowing thru the Great Outdoors with your SUV, even though you rarely/never do it. You can pretend like your life (and maybe you as well) is less boring than it/you really are.

    4) Steve_S is onto something and you can hear the winds of change already. Audi is considering a sportback version of the new TT and BMW is thinking of adding one to the 3 Series. I’ve read that the new WRX STI will be a hatch. (Mazda missed the boat 2 times, first by not making the RX-8 a hatch, then using the Sedan body and not the hatch for the Mazdaspeed 6).

    My prediction is that someone will dip their toe into the market place, probably with a larger version of the hot hatches that are currently flooding the market (A3/GTI, Mazdaspeed 3, etc) and it will be a hit. You heard it here first.

  • avatar
    1984

    I think your facts are backwards…

    1- The first unibody American cars are actually heavier than vehicles that are the same size.

    2- The reason for the existence of the unibody is because it was (and still is) actually easier to build than a frame car/truck.

    It’s less time consuming building the body and frame all as one instead of separate.

    Framed vehicles start up-side down to install the axles and then rotated around to install the powertrain… after that it has to be married to the body that is built in an entirely different area.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I think we are confused over what a CUV is and which vehicle started the trend because we haven’t defined it yet. There appear to be several niches:

    1. Small CUV: Rav4 started it, and CR-V dominates. Built off a B-class platform (Civic/Corolla) and having 4 doors and 5 seats only.

    2. Premium Small CUV: X3 started it, RDX joined the party with Audi, Volvo and MB waiting in the wings. Think $35-40K.

    3. Midsize CUV: Highlander/Pilot — has available seating for 7, although no one over 10 would want to sit in the ‘way back’ for long. Large families have figured out that the third row is a marketing gimmick and are looking for something larger, but not too ‘mommyvanny.”

    4. Premium CUV: XC90, MDX, X5, ML and the one that started it: RX330. $40-50K

    5. Large CUV: Pacifica and Freestyle started it, but GMC triplets look to really build this category. The defining characteristics are that the third row is comfortable, it doesn’t have minivan stigma, and offers AWD. The current growth in upscale large families (3 or more kids) could make this a big hit.

    Lackluster sales of the MB R-class are proving that the Premium Large CUV segment doesn’t exist.

  • avatar
    Hutton

    htn: What do I want? High seating so I can see over all the SUVs and Pickups.

    What is over all of the SUVs and Pickups that you need to see?

    I just don’t get it. No matter how many times I hear it, I just don’t get it. Will sitting 20 inches higher allow you a better view of the car that’s in front of the truck that’s in front of you? And if so, what good does that do anybody?

    How many more people will demand “I want to sit HIGH” before we start seeing cars that are driven from crow’s nests, like a fleet of pirate ships coming down the freeway.

    When you’re driving, you need to see the road. It’s on the ground, where it’s always been.

  • avatar

    I would love to hear the story about how the term, “crossover” was invented. Personally, I think it’s pure marketing baloney, although some of the “crossovers” do look like awkward hybrids of SUV and station wagon or SUV and hatch. But those shapes are based on the marketing baloney.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Can anyone explain why high seating is a benefit?

    Anyone?

  • avatar
    Hutton

    Zambonis have a very high seating position. I predict they will be the next hot trend. Get on it Ford.

    Jonny Lieberman: Can anyone explain why high seating is a benefit?

    the unfortunate answer is that no one can back up their need for sitting up high. But, most people would rather feel safe than be safe. The same reason the door thunk test is so important to new car shoppers.

    “Hear that thud? That’s a safe car!”

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Speaking of high seating position, I find it more of an atavism, an age-old instinct. You’re moving in a 2-dimentional plane, so you need your eyes to be as close to the road as possible. It’s the viewing area that counts – look at Honda Fit, it’s like a helicopter. Almost no nose, and lots of glass. This really makes for an easy, fast, and safe commute in heavy traffic. Same reason why a Sienna is a safer way to transport your kids than an Expedition – feels very car-like for its size, and I found it easier to drive than a similarly sized Explorer (ugh).

    Having had the fortune to slice through traffic on anything from 28ft diesel box trucks to a 2-seater the size of a big motorcycle, I feel genuinely sorry for people commuting in SUV’s. Their real purpose is pulling me out of sand when I miss the “concrete road ends” sign (thank you Jeep folks). It’s a Sport utility vehicle. You don’t ski or swim to work, after all.

  • avatar

    >>>I want everything I like about a sports car, low slung, great power, agility, sexy sheet metal with room to carry four or five people and make a Costco run. The best thing out there right now is the Mazda RX8 but I want better!

    Sounds like you want a BMW 3 series station wagon.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Jonny,

    Maybe it’s some kind of primal instinct some people still feel. Kind of like when my cat has to be on top of the refrigerator surveying her domain.

    This “have to sit high to see around me” arguement is an endless spiral. As long as someone feels they need something taller and bigger, they’ll always have to buy something even taller and bigger to see around the taller and bigger vehicles everyone else is buying just to be able to see around them!

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    By the way, if not for all these high-seated people, I’d be riding motorcycle to work. I still feel very safe riding it on the highway – being driven over by a lane-drifter is not as scary as it seemed at first. Feels like you’re just running naked at 70+ mph. Moving out of the way is rather thought-free, with all the space you have around you. Only trouble is when you get off the highway – people just don’t look down anymore when they decide to run you into the sidewalk.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Re: high seating…

    We pistonheads obviously equate it with high Cg, which is generally detrimental to performance. Ignore all of that. We want homes with nice views, so why not a car with a nice view? Further, how many times do you glance to your side in traffic and realize how many bumpers are at your shoulder/face level.

    If I didn’t have confidence in my own driving, nor a value placed on low Cg, I would absolutely want to be physically higher up in the car. Visibility and safety–or at least the perception.

  • avatar

    Ash78 writes: For her [his mother], it literally comes down to sitting up high and not having to deal with a raked windshield. So basically all cars are out of the question if she had complete say in the decision.

    I don’t want to sit up high, because I love fast cornering, but I agree completely about the raked windshield. I hate them. And most of them are raked way more than necessary for aerodynamics. I would not get the new Civic, a car which I generally like, because of that damn windshield, which is 21 degrees from horizontal. Two minutes of snowfall and you wouldn’t be able to see out of it. YOu’d have to keep the thing spotless. Furthermore, because of that windshield, the Civic has a dash like a football field, which becomes a solar collector in the summertime. Somebody please tell me, what is the point???

    On minivans: I don’t particularly want to drive one, but I think it’s a good concept, and if I had four kids, I’d probably get one. I suspect the people who are averse to them but would get an SUV either have small penises or they have no penises, and are bothered by that fact. I do remember with much fondness the original minivan, the VW Microbus (and for those in the Boston area who are similarly nostalgic, I highly recommend the annual VW day at the Larz Anderson (auto) Museum in Brookline, where you can be surrounded by them).

    Unlike SUVs, which are designed to project an image, minivans are designed for the practical purpose of being able to haul people and stuff, and they do a good job of it. My late mother, who was crippled with multiple sclerosis, had a Dodge Caravan that was outfitted so that she could drive her electric scooter right into the thing, and transfer to the front passenger seat (by the time she got the Caravan, my father was doing all the driving). It made her life a lot easier.

  • avatar

    I think the so-called CUVs defined by SherbornSean above are really just high station wagons, with the ***possible*** exception of the RAV, CRV and Highlander. Put a Pacifica next to a 1952 Pontiac wagon, and I think the Pontiac might even be a tad higher. CUV, indeed!

    I also think that some of the attraction of SUVs over the last 20 years has been the windshield and the headroom, although those are things you could have in one of the old boxy Volvos. When I went car shopping in the early 90s to replace my ’77 Corolla, I was shocked to find that my head was right up to the ceiling on most of the cars I test drove (especially if there was a sunroof).

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    Here’s some good marketing-speak . . . . ‘Command Seating’ . . . that’s how I’ve heard it termed.

    I won’t do the math, but I think some simple geometry will show that when you’re higher off the ground, you are able to see more of your surroundings. You get two effects . . . first, being higher ‘pushes out’ the horizon (somebody here say crow’s nest?). Second, being higher puts you above more of the clutter that’s around you. Try crawling around on your hands and knees, then compare that to walking upright. Being higher obviously makes an improvement in visibility, though whether that difference directly translates into safety improvements is a different story. I recall that both the Focus and the 500 got some kudos for putting the driver up higher than in most cars, which helped to improve visibility.

    The other obvious benefit is purely psychological . . . if you tell me that you feel just as safe and secure scooting around in a butt-dragging sportscar like a Miata versus sitting up high in a (relatively) similarly sized Focus . . . I probably won’t believe you.

    Finally . . . the baby boomers are aging. It’s easier to get in and out of a car with high seating. My 80 year old mother has an easier time riding in our Escape than in her Taurus because the seats are higher. Look for more ‘command seating’ in the future if for no other reason . . .

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Howard, have you checked out the Subaru Outback?

    As for the whole CUV thing, it’s better to have incompetent drivers in them than a body-on-frame SUV (re. mobile battering ram), but I still don’t like them much. For every one that exists, it means that there’s less room in the company’s lineup for a good wagon.

  • avatar
    Steve-O

    Alex,
    I agree with your comment about high-seated drivers “just not looking down anymore” when they get off the highway (and I don’t even ride a motorcycle.)

    Still is my Mini Cooper just too small for American roads? (Don’t answer that.) A Jeep Commander driver used the excuse, “I just didn’t see you there…that car is soooo small!” after she merged right into my clamshell hood recently while we drove around a low-speed 4 lane loop around the local shopping mall. ::Sigh…::

  • avatar
    murphysamber

    Ford is late, but not last. Everyone is invited to come to Detroit in another year and watch me try and sell something called a Tiguan with a straight face. I think I would have stomached the news better if they called the new VW cute-ute a Rockton (one of the other possiblities in the Autobild.de poll). At least a porn name is something I can relate to.

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    I don’t understand why there is so much blame attached to “the big 2.5” for giving the American public what they demanded for roughly 20 years. That, to me, was good business sense.
    That Ford and GM are (hopefully) approaching the finish-line of the death watch series is a testament to how poorly the companies’ finances have been run – not the fact that they made SUV’s for the American market at tremendous profit.
    That Ford and GM do not currently have what the American public wants is more a testament to the nature of cool and bling – even the lexicon changes with the wind.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    High seating position offers much greater visibility in stop-n-go traffic.

    Example: You are at an intersection preparing to turn right. Some tool going straight or turning left pulls up on your port side. If you are laying down in a ‘Vette you don’t move until the light changes because you cannot see whether there is any crossing traffic. With higher seating position you can see over top of cars or possibly through the glass of the SUV/minivan/pickup to your left so you can safely turn right on red.

    In general you have better visibility over or through the windows of vehicles around you. You also see better over the horizon when cruising on the highway. I have decidedly better vision of what is going on around me when commuting in my Jeep Liberty than I do when driving my Honda Accord. As such I am able to brake or begin evading earlier when things begin to pile up. Of course, I need more braking lead time in the SUV but the advantage of higher seating position more than compensates. I am safer because I can more easily avoid accidents.

    Why do swimming pool lifeguards sit in little towers? Why are security cameras mounted high on walls? Why do Meer cats stand on mounds of dirt with their necks extended? Ah, it’s so they can see better!

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    As long as someone feels they need something taller and bigger, they’ll always have to buy something even taller and bigger to see around the taller and bigger vehicles everyone else is buying just to be able to see around them!

    The end to this will be when everybody will be driving BELAZ to work, then a Lotus Esprit will give you a much better view of the road :)

    For some reason I feel safer when I can see other people’s lugnuts next to my head. Kinda the same feeling that you get when passing 18-wheelers: “I’m small. The truck is big. The truck is not going anywhere.”

    Being low to the ground puts you in the proper perspective for driving the car, as long as you don’t look out of narrow excuses for windows, like on Scion tC. Being in the same plane allows you to simplify depth perception geometry, and therefore react much faster and hop through traffic with a precision of a surgical scalpel. When I’m diving fairly low cars with large windows, I can ‘feel’ other cars around me without even having to look (Through some close calls, I found out again and again that I’m far more aware of the surroundings than I think I am).

    On headroom issue: I just put in the cloth’n’plastic T-top inserts which shield you from sun, and my car suddenly became a claustrophobe’s nightmare. Prior to that, I never even noticed that my head was an inch away from the roof. It’s a visual perception issue more than anything else.

    Hence, a panoramic windshield (see Astra GTC) is the best solution to headroom perception, but it will take years if not decades for it to get over here. Until then, people will be driving their crossovers and other tall, narrow cars.

  • avatar
    miked

    Jonny Lieberman:

    Can anyone explain why high seating is a benefit?

    Anyone?

    Because most drivers tailgate and to have enough reaction time, they want to see what’s infront of the car infront of them. It’s just dumb. Fall back a couple of car lengths and you’ll be just fine. And if someone cuts in front of you, just fall back a little bit more. You won’t really get there any faster if you tailgate! /rant

  • avatar
    Hutton

    Stop and go traffic is the same, wether you are driving a Mini Cooper, a Rickshaw or the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. The car in front of you stops, you stop. The car in front of you goes, you go.

    I don’t think any one vehicle is better suited to this type of driving.

    Then again, I don’t really live near any highways, or commute in any traffic. I guess I should consider myself lucky, but either way, I don’t think a cars performance in Stop ‘n Go would be much of a consideration when car shopping. (As long as it stops. And goes.)

  • avatar

    >>>I don’t understand why there is so much blame attached to “the big 2.5″ for giving the American public what they demanded for roughly 20 years. That, to me, was good business sense.

    The Big 3 created the demand for SUVs, because of the light truck loophole on gas mileage standards. It’s all well documented in the book High and Mighty.

  • avatar
    BimmerHead

    Two words: Colt Vista.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Hutton:

    In Texas alone, 10 million people suffer through congested highways on a near daily basis. As one of the drops in this bucket, I respectfully disagree with your assessment that driving in traffic is as simple as watching the brake lights of the car in front of you. I invite you to spend some quality time in a variety of vehicles negotiating our beloved asphalt and concrete arteries in Austin, San Antonio, DFW, or (best of all) Houston. I think you would have a change of heart.

    By they way, I envy that you don’t have to contend with traffic on a daily basis.

  • avatar
    ash78

    BimmerHead:
    Two words: Colt Vista.

    Was that not the Mitsubishi precursor the the Expo/Expo LRV vehicles that followed a few years later? You know, the ones that were soundly rejected by the US market and are now coming back into fashion (see also: Honda Odyssey, first gen)? I like “Space class” cars. They’re minivans for people too cool for minivans, but too smart (or self-righteous) for SUVs.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    William, I think short front overhang and cab-forward positioning help a lot more in the “corvette” situation than higher seating position. In my MR2, I can always pull out far enough to see what’s coming from the left, because nobody ever dares to roll far enough into the intersection to block my view. And when it comes to stop and go traffic, light weight, open view in all directions, manual transmission and small size is what gets me to work full 10 minutes faster (That’s comparing MR2 and 76′ Formula 350, which isn’t exactly a slouch).

    Corvette may be low, but it’s not exactly a commuter car, either. I can’t imagine driving it through the city, day after day. On the other hand, my Formula, however long and heavy it is, is great for highway cruising, thanks, in part, to it’s low seating position. Way easier to drive than a box truck, and you know how high a real truck driver sits :)

    As for seeing ahead, my solution is not to tailgate :) Leaving adequate space ahead also allows you to accelerate and merge into another lane. Given how easy it is to “feel” space in a low car, merging at speed is a breeze. Once you start driving your commuter as a precision instrument, your drive to work will become incident-free, pleasant, and fast. You’ll always have more than one way out of trouble. For the last few years, I never had to touch my horn button in anger – because I never have to make an effort when avoiding a collision or changing lanes. It just happens, like walking or breathing.

  • avatar
    Doogs

    I wouldn’t call CR-V’s, Rav4’s, and similar mini-SUV’s from the mid-90’s crossovers. They’re a bit more like Jeep Wrangler – small, simple, inexpensive off-roaders. At least they’re not crossovers in the Edge kind of way.

    Don’t offroad much, I take it? Because lumping the CR-V and RAV4 (especially the iterations from the mid-90’s) with the Wrangler is roughly the equivalent of tossing the Yaris and Fit in with the likes of an M3, Audi RS4, etc.

    I’ve had the misfortune of actually witnessing a 1st-gen RAV4 attempt to offroad. It didn’t make it past the curb (no, really, the curb was slippery and the RAV couldn’t clear it), and the owner quickly gave up, parked, and rode along with someone else.

    On another note…the Jeep Cherokee was a unibody long before the RAV-4 and CR-V.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    >>> Sounds like you want a BMW 3 series station wagon.

    Still looks very much like a wagon, the best example is the Mitsubish Sportback concept (do a google on it and you’ll find a bunch) and the Audi Shooting Brake concept (although only 2 doors) is another. One that may be good as well is the upcoming Audi A5 although it would need to have a hatch to be more functional.

    >>> Why do swimming pool lifeguards sit in little towers? Why are security cameras mounted high on walls? Why do Meer cats stand on mounds of dirt with their necks extended? Ah, it’s so they can see better!

    Exactly and nicely said. Another benefit is that it is easier to get into a higher off the ground CUV than a typical sedan or wagon so they also appeal to older folks. Another reason is they can handle large people and we Americans are not small (just watch the documentary “Supersize Me”). I have about 1 inch of clearance in my RX8, no idea how tall people fit in there.

  • avatar
    MW

    Stop and go traffic is the same … The car in front of you stops, you stop. The car in front of you goes, you go.

    Sadly, it’s not. Imagine you’re in a line of traffic moving 70-75 … and the car in front of you brakes suddenly. If you can see around / over him, you already know whether he’s 1) responding intelligently to a whole line of cars slowing fast in front of him, 2) not braking fast enough and about to become part of an accident right in front of you, or 3) a panicky idiot overreacting, who’s probably about to let off the brake any second. In either scenario, your response is different — slow fast, change lanes, tap brakes and wait, some combination. If you can’t tell what’s happening, your ONLY choice is to slow at least as fast as the driver in front of you. Now imagine this scenario happening EVERY FIVE MINUTES and you have traffic in the northeast corridor. And don’t accuse me of tailgating, because if you leave space in front of you, someone will pull into it within seconds, generally without signalling.

    People who have to deal with this on a regular basis buy tall vehicles because it reduces the mental strain of driving for hours in heavy high-speed traffic. Plus it’s nice to be able to see the landscape over the Jersey barriers sometimes.

  • avatar
    Hutton

    I do get to Boston or Providence on the occasional weekend, (or even worse, the Cape in the summer) so do know what a pain in the ass a congested highway can be… I imagine its almost unbearable at 5pm on a weekday. So, my sympathies if you have to do that everyday.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    People who have to deal with this on a regular basis buy tall vehicles because it reduces the mental strain of driving for hours in heavy high-speed traffic.

    My father drives a not-so-tall 00′ Camry, and his strain is minimal. He just takes it easy – stays in one lane, doesn’t rush, doesn’t hop all over the place like I do. Takes longer to get to work, but heck, I’ll be damned if he ever had to make a single sharp move while driving. And he doesn’t even look around too much. So I guess that’s an approach that works, too. Take it easy and enjoy the ride.
    In the end, there is never such a thing as not seeing ahead far enough because you don’t sit up high. It’s not like the road is perfectly straight and you drive within an inch from each other. I can see far enough ahead, riding a motorcycle in the middle of a lane, behind an Excursion. Talk about sitting low, my eyes scratch the ground, or so it feels. If you pay attention, you know what’s going on up there regardless of your seating position.

    I think we need an article on traffic.

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    SUVs, Trucks, CUVs, whatever, they are all usually a waste. Maybe about 15% of the people that buy these vehicles actually need them. Every morning and afternoon commute is filled with tons of 4000-5000 pound cars with one person inside them. Single, young males and especially females driving huge vehicles to school and work. Almost every college kid had one when I was going to school. “I *might* need to tow/carry something or some people at some distant point in the future”. Then they bitched about gas prices and how much they needed a raise. Well you wouldn’t buy 10 extra pounds of steak every time you go to the grocery store that you know you can’t eat “just in case” someone might stop by for dinner. These are the kind of people that would look at me like I was crazy if I pulled a $100 bill out of my wallet every few days and set it on fire, not realizing they are doing the same thing.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    lzaffuto,
    I hope you live in a non-air conditioned 500 square foot cube, eat barley for dinner, and go to sleep when the sun sets.

    Of course no one in our society needs 95% of what they have. So what? People want it. Free country and all . . .

    When I’m allowed to come to your house and tell you exactly what you need to live, then I’ll let you come over and tell me what I need to drive. Until then, I wish people would quit trotting out that spurious ‘argument’.

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    “Of course no one in our society needs 95% of what they have. So what? People want it. Free country and all . . .”

    I’m not saying they can’t have it. It is a free country after all. I’m just saying they’re dumb for having it, and even dumber for complaining about what results from having it. See, I’m free to burn that $100 bill every few days too… it just means I’m a few french fries short of a happy meal.

    “When I’m allowed to come to your house and tell you exactly what you need to live, then I’ll let you come over and tell me what I need to drive. Until then, I wish people would quit trotting out that spurious ‘argument’. ”

    It’s sad that is the only argument anyone can use to defend against mine. I’m not saying to live with the bare minimum like a hippy tree hugger, I’m saying to live reasonably. A 5000 pound vehicle for one person that doesn’t need it is a waste, end of story, no argument you can use to defend it. You have a right to own it, but that doesn’t mean you should. And being a free country, people have a right to “trot out that “spurious” argument” and point it out to you.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I absolutely don’t try to tell people how to live their lives (although I am prone to share tips/techniques that have worked for me…YMMV, as they say). But when it comes to cars, especially with the anti-SUV arguments, you ARE potentially affecting other people’s lives and health. I’m as “cold, dead hands” as they come, but I definitely feel it is our collective duty as the supposed “automotive alphas” to discourage people from buying larger vehicles than they really need, if for no other reason than public safety. Again, crossovers are at least a step in the right direction towards getting people to align their needs with their purchase.

    So buy your giant TVs, waste your kids’ college fund, and do unspeakable things with goats in your bedroom, you’ll never hear anything negative from me unless solicited. Cars are deadly and proven weapons, but you never hear the same fervor about them as from the anti-assault-rifle crowd.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    I have a book from the early 1980s, whose title escapes me and is somewhere in boxes that may precipitate a move, on “the future of the auto industry.” That book predicted “overcapacity,” too many vehicles for a market that has changed. I remember feeling dread when I would read that and think – foolishly – that with China opening up and people acquiring three or four vehicles per household, the dreaded “overcapacity” would be forestalled, if never occur.
    I was wrong. We have too many new vehicles, especially ones that duplicate each other so much, people think, “What’s the point of trading my used car (or truck or SUV) in?”
    The crossovers that will survive are one that are so good, they answer that question people have with one of “more features” or “better appearance” or “more power.” However, as the man who towed he and his wife’s horse in a trailer around Britain with a diesel-powered Volvo noted, at some point “more power” might give way to “better fuel economy” and “greater durability.”
    GM rolled out two crossovers as 2005 models, under the Buick and Saturn banners, that I remember seeing in October 2003, when I went back to Troy, Michigan for a press preview of GM powertrains for the 2005 model year. Those crossovers were so unmemorable to me, I can’t recall the Saturn’s name and I think the Buick was called the “Reazza.” Does anyone remember that crossover? Does anyone reading this site care to? I believe the Saturn crossover is still around but the Buick is gone. But then again, I may be wrong – not that it matters a whole hell of lot.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    The key thing is, most people ought SUV’s because they convinced themselves that they NEED them… I get by fine with a 2-seater and 10 cubic feet of cargo space. This isn’t 1957 anymore, you don’t need back seats, pickup bed, and 20″ ground clearance to drive yourself around.
    I’m pretty sure a lot of people would be happier driving Corvettes, or luxury sedans, which would cost about the same. But our society demands that these people drive SUV’s, and you see the result. At one point, I was convinced that I needed 4 doors and a rear seat, because “that’s what everybody has”. I now realize that I could have been a lot happier with what I have now.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    MW:

    While I totally disagree with your reason for a tall vehicle, humor me — let’s say you actually do have to brake suddenly.

    Wouldn’t you rather have a lighter vehicle that will stop in a shorter distance, rather than rear-ending the thing in front of you that you can’t see around?

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Jonny,
    Haven’t you learned by now that people buy cars to make up for their inadequacies?

    Example: my wife loves sitting high in her CUV. She also happens to be 5 foot 1. Coincidence?

    Another reason I’ve heard for liking to sit up high is that it’s easier for the old and lame to get in and out. I have a feeling the Ford 500 will benefit from this, once they put the 3.5 liter engine in it (old people also need horsepower for the 3 times a year when they go above 35 MPH).

    Am I an ageist bastard for saying that?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Sherborn:

    I’ve learned that. I just want to get others to see what I see.

  • avatar
    htn

    Since I seem to have started the “sitting high” thing I guess I should respond.

    For me it has to do with seeing more than the tailights of the car in front of me. I try not to tailgate but as one poster stated if you leave one car length for every 10mph spacing in the region where I drive (Norcal) you will find yourself slowing to 20mph as people fill the space between you and the car you are following appropriately.

    Having to follow more closely than is really comfortable I do indeed want to see what is happening 10-20 cars ahead. Is traffic stopped? Do I need a rapid stop? etc. This was nicely outlined by another poster.

    One car I drive is an 89 5.0 mustang with suspension mods (to lower CG and improve handling). When driving this car in 3 lanes of freeway traffic all I see are lug nuts and the trunk of the car in front of me. When I am in our Windstar van I suddenly can see the windows of cars on each side and the back of cars well ahead in traffic. When driving in traffic I feel much more secure in the van.

    I am in the market to replace a car and like everything about the Ford Freestyle except the drivetrain. I guess if Ford offered a 100K warrantee on the drivetrain I would get one. I will look at the outback. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Alex Rashev:

    I’m sorry, but I’m not buying the whole “feel” the spaces around you thing. I think that the notion that being close to the ground gives you the “proper perspective” for driving is just BS. Sitting low has its advantages for aerodynamics, lower center of gravity, etc., but not for vision. The higher you sit the better perspective you have for gathering information about surrounding conditions (assuming everything else it equal). Safe driving has more to do with applying that information to make good decisions than it has to do with the maximum theoretical stopping capabilities one vehicle has over another.

    May the Force be with you.

  • avatar
    tom

    I really don’t get the whole sit-up-high thing. If I have a choice, I’ll always sit as low as possible. I mean where is the fun in sitting up high?

  • avatar
    kablamo

    One thing that bugs me the last few years about ALL car companies is everyone seems to be trying to appeal to everyone – that’s not what got any of them where they are today (except to SOME EXTENT GM and Toyota).

    Pure sports cars, bottom basic but solid economy cars, true offroaders, basic 4 door sedans… everything somehow seems to be slowly getting mishmashed. Used car lots in 10 years are going to have a lot of expensive to repair cars out there.

    Everyone seems to try and build the practical sports car, the comfortable offroader, the luxurious affordable sedan, the van-like car… problem is these vehicles rarely offer the right compromises. They just offer examples of discussion group design.

    I’m done venting…thanks….

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    A few points from my prespective:

    1) The two terms I’ve always enjoyed when describing SUVs are A) SUV = Suburban Un-minvan Vehicle and B) WOTT = Wagon On Tall Tires (courtesy of Car&Driver).

    2) There is almost no justification for buying a WOTT instead of a sedan/station wagon/minivan. A tiny minority of buyers actually make use of the 4WD/AWD and/or the higher ground clearance. Otherwise, asserting that you ‘need’ a 5000lb.+ WOTT because you tow a boat a few times a year is akin to ‘needing’ a 30′ U-Haul truck to drive to the office because you’ll need it to move your belongings to a new home at some future time.

    3) I highly recommend the Keith Bradsher’s book High and Mighty. Bradsher is not a technical geek, so he gets a few physical facts wrong, but his documentation of the history and the psychology of the SUV craze is excellent.

    4) Never underestimate the power of greed. At the peek of the SUV craze, Honda was willing to sell a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo under its nameplate. They soon found out that Passport/Rodeo was a ‘high warranty exposure’ (i.e. POS) vehicle.

    5) Never underestimate the power of image conciousness/status anxiety. My ex-wife once bought a Honda Accord Coupe (1997, I think). I tried to convince her that nearly-indentical and somewhat more practical Accord Sedan was a better choice. Her response “The 4-door is a ‘Mommy’ car”. No amount of rational argument could overcome that image in her mind.

    Buzz L. (Proud owner of a Wagon on Low-Profile Tires — The Mazda 3)

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    About “sitting up high”. You push an extra 1000 lb of steel, lose handling, make worse wrecks, and greatly increase your chance of rollover. You *can* see better sometimes, but your vision comes at the expense of someone else. This is like saying that you stand up when you go to the movies so that you can see better.

    I have family of five and a minivan, great vehicle and I am not the least bit embarrassed – if anything I enjoy flaunting automotive taboos. I am puzzled by the American concept of “cool”: somehow driving “family” car is supposed to make men less manly and women less attractive.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Well my testosterone laden friends, Minivans were a result of the female trend of WOMEN having the majority say in 70% of all vehicle sales. This is well known and documented fact based on marketing research. Minivans were the result of women wanting to sit higher so they could see and still have a place to put the gaggle of kids and the soccer balls and groceries. Females became turned off at the options of the SUV sitting on a frame as to big and hard to manuver. The Minivan came to be because women couldn’t see around the TRUCKS plus the need for movin bodies to school and baseball practice.

    Now this may not sit with the Alpha Centric Tim Allen type male who fantasizes over the feed my ego, 700 HP, 7 speed, quasi bullet with 32 inches of gumball sticky flat rubber on the pavement, pulls 1.5G Lat and shoves the spine out the back on acceleration and pops the eyballs out the skull deceleration land missle.

    That said the fact remains that given what I bet is the A typical makeup of this forum (since I don’t see a single post by a female) I am sure the move to CUV’s boggles the concious mind. Truth is the women don’t want to drive Minivans any more but want the same desired functionality with a tinge of style. In other words the women have spoken. SCRAP THE BOXES WEVE HAD ENOUGH! But don’t screw up what we got in functionality. Since women still have a major say in all vehicle SALES we as males can piss and moan all we want but the reality is that center console and the ergonomic placement of those controls aren’t for our benefit. That monster center console is so a woman can put her purse and all her crap in there. Those unergo controls. Them are designed female ergo so the girls don’t brake a nail. If you think I’m kiddin I know for fact Male engineers have been subjected to dressing in female attire and forced to entrance exit and use the controls on prototype vehicles so they could get a reality grasp on how to design a vehicle for a female. These exercises are more common than you know, and Most Alpha male engineers would not be caught dead talking about it.
    Time to face the music guys. 80% of the vehicles currently comming to market aren’t directed at the A typical Alpha Male and the manufacturers could give a RATZ AZZ what we think unless it has a frame under it or seats 2 with a minimum of 400 HP. Anything that don’t fall into that classification ain’t for us. That leaves 15% for you to make a choice from and 5% that’s out of the reach of 98% of the Alpha Typical Males budget and that 5% is 90% of the discussion that makes up car rags and automotive yak websites. Thats a hard pill to swallow but it is the TRUTH.

  • avatar
    mungooz

    Gosh, gee! I’m a trend setter. I bought a (used) ’97 Kia Sportage, 2WD, stick shift because: 1)It is small, easy to manuever and park. 2) Easier on gas than full sized UVs. 3)It offers some utility (I have hauled a lot of stuff- you’d be surprised- back there and 4)It was cheap (and so am I.) The point is that the new SUVs (Small Utility Vehicles) fill a real need. Anyone who has watched at a school as mom after mom drops off one 35lb kid at school out of a 2 1/2 ton UV knows what a waste of resources such a conveyance can be. SUVs like mine (although mine is body on frame) serve a real purpose for those who want some utility but don’t tow boats and trailers. These new, small SUVs are very practical. Deal with it.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Mungooz
    you have just answered for the forum why the CUV will be here for a while!
    MOM after MOM after MOM after MOM. Guess who drove the sale when it was bought. Not Dad! Unless he has a death wish for his Mojo after the sun goes down. LOL

  • avatar
    mikey

    Mr Gump is right on the money with that one I don’t think there is an atached male that would disagree.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Not any attached male who’s being honest. :) After 6 beers the story might be different though :)

  • avatar
    HawaiiJim

    Honda/Acura:

    Show…me…the…wagon! And I will buy it.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Just one caveat with Mr. Gump’s rendition of history. The minivan hit it big in ’84 with the release of Chrysler’s vans. At that time, trucks weren’t enough of a problem that people were worried about seeing around them, and it sure as hell had nothing to do with being frustrated with SUVs (at that time, four door SUVs basically amounted to a couple of Jeeps and the Suburban). The minivan came to be so that full-sized wagon room was put in a different, more modern package.

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    Not in disagreement with you in any way, however once the women latched on to the high ride and utility of them that was all she wrote.
    Back in 84 the trend of women making the majority car decision had not hit either. Back in 84 you didn’t even see a woman on a lot looking at cars.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    Well, since it is a free country, I apologize for attempting to tread on your ability to trot out spurious arguments.

    Basically, it seems that you’re saying is “I think your decision is bad, therefore you’re throwing your money down the drain . . . in my opinion.” Can’t argue with that. I internally fume when I hear about folks buying their clothes at Macy’s or Nordstrom’s or whatever the uber-trendy department store is this week, paying $400 for a pair of shoes or $120 for a dress shirt. Same thing, I guess.

    I guess based on the contents of this thread, I don’t even drive an ‘SUV’ . . . I drive a CUV. Well, actually, I drive a sedan, and my wife drives the CUV. Does she need it to commute to work every day? No. But as a family, we do need it to shuttle my kid and her friends around, bring home stuff from Lowe’s or Best Buy, shuttle junk from my mom’s house, etc, etc. Could I use a minivan instead? Well . . . maybe, but I just don’t like them, so the CUV ‘premium’ (if there is one) is worth it to me, since I would not want to make due with two sedans at this point in life.

  • avatar
    MW

    Jonny Lieberman:

    While I totally disagree with your reason for a tall vehicle, humor me — let’s say you actually do have to brake suddenly.

    Wouldn’t you rather have a lighter vehicle that will stop in a shorter distance, rather than rear-ending the thing in front of you that you can’t see around?

    Actually, I do – I think my Honda Element weighs in around 3300 lbs. My point was not to justify huge ladder-frame SUVs, but to point out that tall cars do have their uses, utility and visibility among them. Although I’ll readily admit the handling is a pain — not as bad as you might expect, but there’s no getting around the high center of gravity. I like the Element a lot for certain types of driving, much less so for others.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    William,

    Regarding seating position and vision: There’s more to seeing than just a picture. Most of us are fortunate enough to be blessed with two functional eyes, which allows you to apply volume to the picture that your eyes feed to your brain. You can therefore construct a sort of a 3D rendering of your immediate surroundings in your head.

    Here’s the rub: your eyes are in a horisontal line, and so is your virtual depth perception triangle – this is why us humans have “flat” spatial perception. To have true full-sphere spatial perception, you need at least another eye on the forehead :)

    Now, when you’re seated at the same level with other folks’ trunks, your “good” perception circle simply covers the cars around you. As soon as you lift yourself up, you take the other cars out of that circle. Easy, you say, I just look down a bit, and they’re in the circle again. BUT! You tilt your vision circle, and therefore your side vision, formerly the most sensitive to depth, is nearly useless now. Far-side and rearward vision doesn’t suffer as much since you only have flat perception there anyway, but the key 10 and 2 o’clock positions are compromised. When something moves in there, you have to LOOK at it to feel how far away it is. And that way you cut out everything on the other side for a moment. Way to have an accident.

    Basically, instead of involuntarily knowing where cars around you are, you have to voluntarily scan and compound. Having had to drive a huge truck many times, I can tell you that it’s very easy to skip or forget the scanning part, at which point you’re really not paying any attention to anything but the few cars in front of you. Forgivable for a truck cause everyone’s scared of you, and thus pays attention, yields, etc. Not so forgivable for an SUV which will suffer just as bad if some low sedan drifts into it.

    This might sound funny, but it’s true. That’s the same reason why they test you for 180 degree vision at the DMV.

    Here’s a simpler analogy: do you aim from your hip, or do you aim from your shoulder? Even the SWAT team keeps their guns to their heads – they know that whatever vision advantage they get from not having a gun barrel block a quarter of their FOV, they’ll instantly loose it when it’s time to shoot. This is not as scientific, but it’s a much better illustration :)

  • avatar

    Steve_S writes: I have about 1 inch of clearance in my RX8, no idea how tall people fit in there.

    by tilting the seat back. Not a great solution.

    Someone else writes: Another reason I’ve heard for liking to sit up high is that it’s easier for the old and lame to get in and out. I have a feeling the Ford 500 will benefit from this, once they put the 3.5 liter engine in it (old people also need horsepower for the 3 times a year when they go above 35 MPH).

    My father had no trouble getting into the Volvo 940.

    Someone else writes: 2) There is almost no justification for buying a WOTT instead of a sedan/station wagon/minivan.

    One of my friends has a Jeep Cherokee because he doesn’t want some “pussy car.” He wouldn’t consider a Japanese SUV becuase he didn’t want some “pussy SUV.” In his price range, only the Jeep was suitably macho. (He’s actually a wonderful guy despite this foible.)

    In response to something a couple of other people said, he is attached, with kids, and he is the one in his family who decides what car to get. My brother in law, another SUV driver, does most of the car decision-making in his family.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    Alex R,

    Interesting post, good points.

    However, regarding your analogy . . . imagine your hypothetical SWAT member is storming a large room with lots of free-standing obstacles, say a Casino. Do you think he’d have a better chance of cappin’ a bad guy while he’s standing and aiming from the shoulder, or while he’s crawling around on his belly? I think standing . . .

  • avatar
    MW

    I should add that I agree with Frank Williams’ quote at the beginning of the thread about the Tercel and Civic wagons from the 1980s — I owned a 1988 Civic Wagon and found it to be about the ideal combination of utility, economy and fun for me. Unfortunately, by the time the rust got it in 2001 (at which point it had 265,000 miles on the odometer and still ran well), Honda had discontinued their wagons in favor of small SUVs. The Element is a terrific vehicle in many ways, but I’d gladly trade some ground clearance and towing capacity for another 10 mpg and more nimble back-road handling.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Ar-Pharazon,

    Crawling on his belly, he’d stand a better chance not to get shot himself :)

    I see what you’re getting at, but I just don’t see direct visibility as an issue. I specifically observed myself while driving to work today, and I have no difficulties seeing far ahead (and sideways, there are at most 2 lanes of cars, not an issue). The first two or three cars you can rarely observe anyway, and past that, road curvature (up-down, or sideways) gives terrific view of the traffic, no matter how low you sit.

    Only time I could have used a (much) taller seating position is when driving bumper-to-bumper on older, straight roads through the countryland, like some sections of the road from DC to Ocean City in MD. But then, the best a tall-seating position would give me is arriving there a few minutes early because I picked my lanes better.

    This is where you get back to the point of SUV guy who needs to tow a boat three times a year. The grand 20 minutes it will save you annually are hardly worth lugging around extra 2000 pounds and risking your life – and mine. Quote, A Ford Explorer is 16 times as likely as the typical family car to kill occupants of another vehicle in a crash. In other words, all the advances of safety technology are negated by those sledgehammers driving around :)

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    in most urban places i’ve been to, theres alot of really big trucks on the road. even with the hugest hummer, you can’t see around them. So here’s my suggestion. A modified 18 wheeler, with a crows nest and radar. Then u can see everything. Feel better now?

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