Question Of The Day: What's the Next Big Automotive Segment?
Well, folks, I can confidently tell you right now what the hot new segment is: small luxury crossovers. Have you noticed this? These things are now everywhere, commonplace, ubiquitous. As popular as Apple laptops with organic food stickers on a liberal arts campus.
Now, you might be thinking that you already knew this, because luxury crossovers have been everywhere for years. The Lexus RX. The BMW X5. The Acura MDX. A bunch of other luxury SUVs with “X” in the name, in order to signify all-terrain capabilities, even though the tire pressure light would come on if you rolled over anything larger than a desk lamp.
But I’m not referring to the uncool, outmoded old guard of luxury SUVs. I’m talking about all the new smaller models, which have somehow popped up without warning entirely within the last two years. There is, for example, the BMW X1. The Buick Encore. The Audi Q3. The Lexus NX. The Mercedes-Benz GLA. All additions to the lineup for their respective automakers. All tiny luxury SUVs. And all on sale within the last 18 months.
And it’s not just happening in the luxury realm. Even mainstream automakers are jumping on the bandwagon of what I am calling subcompact SUVs, with several new models joining this previously undiscovered segment within the last six months. Think about it: the Chevrolet Trax. The Mazda CX-3. The Honda HR-V. The Jeep Renegade. All new compact crossovers, all recently on sale, all part of a hot new segment, and if you’re still driving around in a boring ol’ midsize sedan, well then you just aren’t cool anymore, are you?
Could we have predicted these things coming? Possibly. I mean, SUVs are so hot right now that we should’ve seen the fact that there would soon be SUVs of all sizes, from subcompact to public bus. So this doesn’t surprise me too much, and if you’ve been paying attention, it shouldn’t surprise you, either.
What has always surprised me, however, is the Subaru Outback. Nobody could’ve seen that coming. Here’s a car company that sells a wagon in a country where nobody wants wagons, with standard all-wheel drive that’s unnecessary to half the citizens, and by God they simply raise it up and change the wheels and they’ve carved out a niche that has now lasted for two decades.
The Outback is so popular that nobody else even plays in the segment. It’s the Jeep Wrangler effect, essentially. Companies look at the Outback and the Jeep Wrangler, and they see how easy the concept would be to replicate, so they get in there and they make their own version, and then they learn that the people don’t want their stupid knock-off, they want a Wrangler, dammit, no matter how many windshield wipers Toyota tries put on the thing.
Not all segments are as successful. For example: at some point during the 1990s, Ford thought it would be a good idea to create a two-wheel drive pickup truck with a bed cover and call it a Lincoln. I can only imagine the excitement as this thing was building up to launch. Jac Nasser was probably doing interviews, grinning ear to ear in that way that made his eyebrows contort like a cartoon character’s, telling everyone that Ford had the hot new product. And then the thing came out, and they sold roughly 24 of them, 19 of which went to wives of Lincoln dealers.
General Motors isn’t blameless for bizarre segmentation, either. I will literally never forget the first time I saw a photograph of the GMC Envoy XUV, which was a long-wheelbase version of the GMC Envoy with a retractable-roof cargo area designed to add extra practicality for hauling huge items like grandfather clocks and palm trees. In fact, early press photos showed just that: the driver, apparently an antiques dealer – who could only afford one vehicle for both family and work purposes – hauling around a grandfather clock in his retractable cargo area. Of course, General Motors forgot one issue when designing this car, namely that nobody in the history of the world has ever wanted to haul around a grandfather clock in their midsize SUV.
So my point here is that when it comes to creating new segments, you have winners — like the X1 and the Outback — and you have losers, like the Envoy XUV and the Lincoln Blackwood. So it’s hard to come up with new segments, because sometimes it ends up being a waste of money.
Fortunately, it isn’t hard for us to come up with new segments, because we aren’t spending any money. We’re not the head of a car company, and we’re not going to put these ideas into development. But just in case you were… what segment would you add? What do you think will heat up next? What vehicles do you think the auto industry is sorely lacking?
I’m eager to hear your ideas. They can’t be worse than the grandfather clock.
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And I thought that Outbacks were all driven by women searching for carpet? How about a small(er) four door pickup? Look at an F150 from the '70's and today, it has grown considerably, not everyone has big parking spaces, wide avenues, and two car garages popular in fly over country. I drove a company supplied F-150 for a NY/NJ territory and it was no box of chocolates navigating these tight streets in this behemoth. Yes, Toyota makes one, but there is a large element who won't buy a foreign nameplate or shop in walmart. How about a replacement for the Ford SportTrac? Check out the prices for these on the used market.