Cain's Segments: Crossovers and SUVs

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
cains segments crossovers and suvs

For the sixth time in seven years, the best-selling utility vehicle in America was the Honda CR-V. 2013 marked a record high for U.S. CR-V sales, as the current smallest Honda crossover climbed above 300,000 units for the first time.

Not since 2006 has any vehicle other than the CR-V or Ford Escape been crowned as America’s top-selling SUV. That year, the Ford Explorer led the way with 179,229 sales. Ford last sold more than 300,000 Explorers in 2004. In 2013, the Explorer ranked fifth among SUVs and crossovers. No three-row vehicle sold more often in 2013. 14,086 of the Explorer’s sales came in the form of Police Interceptors.

One of three Fords among America’s nine top-selling utility vehicles in 2013, the Explorer wasn’t the highest-ranking Blue Oval vehicle on the list. As Honda did with the top-ranked CR-V, Ford also set a record for Escape volume. At the end of July, Ford led 2013’s SUV rankings, and a repeat of 2011 looked possible. The Escape’s 5980-unit lead at that point was slim, however, and it wasn’t surprising to see Honda surge to the front with a 34,654-unit August.

The Escape led the next-best-selling Chevrolet Equinox by 57,801 sales in 2013, up from a 42,387-unit gap in 2012. The Equinox was yet another vehicle to report record-setting volume in 2013. Equinox sales have increased in five consecutive years. General Motors also sold 99,525 copies of the Equinox’s GMC twin, the Terrain. Combine the two for 337,717 U.S. sales in 2013. General Motors continues to dominate the full-size SUV segment, yet its four big Chevrolets and GMCs – Tahoe, Suburban, Yukon, Yukon XL – combined for 43,870 fewer sales than the Equinox.

Record RAV4 sales produced another fourth-place result for Toyota’s smallest crossover in 2013. As an example of how mainstream small utility vehicles have become, consider the fact that Toyota’s 2013 total was 4000 units stronger than the RAV4’s three-year total from 2003 through 2005. Toyota’s decision to kill of V6 and three-row RAV4s hasn’t had any negative impact in the U.S. market.

Nissan reported record Rogue sales as the first-generation model expired. Ford sold 129,109 Edges, just 1016 fewer than in the nameplate’s only better year, 2007. Toyota sold an average of 132,040 Highlanders annually between 2004 and 2007 and until 2013 hadn’t been able to approach that level. The Highlander outsold the Lexus RX, America’s leading premium brand utility vehicle, by 23,652 units in 2013. Jeep broke its one-year-old Wrangler sales record; and did the same with its Patriot and Compass. The Grand Cherokee reported its fourth consecutive year-over-year increase in 2013 but, like the Explorer, doesn’t sell the way it once did. Over 300,000 Grand Cherokees were sold in 1999.

If recent results mean anything about that which we’ll see in 2014, however – and there are reasons to believe they won’t – the Subaru Forester and Jeep Cherokee will knock two of these high sellers out of the top ten a year from now. There’s the distinct possibility that Jeep managed to sell 25,207 Cherokees over the final two months of 2013 because of pent-up demand. Yet, that would suggest that there is demand of some kind, and even if Cherokee sales slow considerably, the Cherokee won’t be rare. The Forester, a top ten member in each of the last five months, is part of Subaru’s increasingly mainstream wave. Freshness has helped the Forester of late, and the willingness of more and more Americans to contemplate a Subaru purchase could be enough for the Forester to land a more consistent top ten placement.

As expected, enthusiast favourites are rare on the SUV leaderboard. Mazda sold 79,544 CX-5s in 2013. Porsche sold 18,507 Cayennes. Nissan Juke sales, at 38,157 in 2013, have risen every since the model was introduced.

RankBest-Selling SUV/Crossover20132012% Change CR-V303,904281,6527.9% Escape295,993261,00813.4% Equinox238,192218,6219.0% RAV4218,249171,87727.0% Explorer192,397164,20717.2% Grand Cherokee174,275154,73412.6% Rogue162,751142,34914.3% Wrangler155,502141,6699.8% Edge129,109127,9690.9% Highlander127,572121,0555.4%
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9 of 108 comments
  • Mhickman73 Mhickman73 on Jan 07, 2014

    CUVs are appliances...there are few that actually engage the driver. Yes, I would rather drive a wagon, but I'm in the minority...not to mention my wife has an irrational hatred for them. The Mazda is definitely my pick for this segment as well. It's tough to find a vehicle that's less fun to drive than a CR-V.

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    • Quentin Quentin on Jan 08, 2014

      @turboprius Huh? CUVs are just tall wagons. The Rav4 is based on the Corolla. My Prius v is basically a Corolla wagon and it has less cargo space and rear legroom than a Rav4 despite being a longer vehicle with a longer wheelbase.

  • TybeeJim TybeeJim on Jan 07, 2014

    While no where near these numbers, I noted in a published report yesterday that Audi's top seller in the US is the Q5!

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