By on March 20, 2015

GMC_Envoy_XUV_

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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82 Comments on “Question Of The Day: What’s the Next Big Automotive Segment?...”


  • avatar

    Death Race cars! Obviously!

  • avatar
    kosmo

    V8 powered, RWD, car-based pickup trucks!

    Oh, wait, wrong continent. NM.

  • avatar
    Mjolnir427

    Subaru Outback. It’s a longer/lower/wider CUV with better fuel economy. Win/win.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      The longer/lower/wider aesthetic is not one currently championed. Everyone wants taller and shorter.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Longer and wider isn’t “green” or on trend. It’s seen as excessive and taking up too much space. You can have something which uses an equal amount of fuel, but is not as long or wide, and that’s green, so it’s cool.

        “Longest” stopped being cool about what, 1980?

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Is there any new land to conquer? Suddenly we have four different choices for European vans that you previously only ever saw taking Molotov cocktails on the chin in a riot on BBC News.

    Sounds like we’ll never get an actual compact pickup again due to crash regulations, so I’m going to go with Big American Sedans. Oldsters are going to get tired of climbing into SUVs, and as Jack pointed out a while ago, the panache of a Navigator is significantly diminished as roofing crews and landscapers start using beat-down examples as cheaper alternatives to used pickups.

    The pendulum has to swing back from filling-loosening rides and center consoles uber alles that define high-spec cars today. The sensory-deprivation chamber with a bench seat will become viable again, because it’s been abandoned for a few years. It’ll seem fresh. Spread out and enjoy the ride to The Sizzler, everybody!

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Except that oldsters are the ones buying subcompact CUVS because they don’t want to swing down into a sedan, and you don’t climb up or down into a CUV. You slide across.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      First, love this post. Especially the van part. It was a bit shocking a few years ago to suddenly be driving next to a Transit in Missouri. But with the fuel-cost it made sense. If you have to move stuff and keep it semi-secure and clean, a van from the EU does it cheaper.

      Unfortunately, my parents made the bizarre move of going from two Avalons in a row to a Cadillac SRX, the opposite of your projections. Really.

      The Avalons were fast long-distance runners, fuel-efficient, and rode really well, so much so that their friends always wanted to ride in their car when going anywhere. Completely reliable, neither ever went to the dealer except for tire rotations and oil changes. Why trade? Peer pressure I guess, and according to my mother the SRX was easier to see out of and park in the garage.

    • 0 avatar

      He’s on to something. I saw an old lady yesterday (70+) manhandling around a brand-new Charger with a handicapped placard on it. She could barely see over the steering wheel. You should be afraid.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    SUP= Small Utility Pick-up

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I was sort of thinking the same thing, but they’d have to go with ridiculously butch styling, a standard diesel engine, and factory stacks in the bed, to appeal to the redneck aspirational crowd that’s currently a thing (you know, the ones who listen to the over-produced pop tripe passing itself of a nu-country?). Make that for about $30k (to undercut what it costs to get the diesel 3/4 ton you currently need to prove your adequacy as a man), and it could sell

  • avatar
    udman

    Doug,
    I love my GMC Envoy XUV, and I have written about it extensively at another site… but I get why these things failed in the market place. It was a rather weaksauce attempt to revive the old Studebaker Wagonaire… You remember those… they had the roof open up at the rear, like the Envoy XUV.

    Mine was purchased at a Texas Car Dealer in March of 2010 (It is a 2004 model year) and I specifically went after this particular model because of what it didn’t have… No Leather (honestly, the leather interiors simply remind me of the late 60’s and early 70’s vinyl anyway) and only rear wheel drive. Yes, I live here in Connecticut, but you simply have to drive smart with no real need for a 4X4. I never got stuck once, and this was about as bad a winter season in the Northeast as I have experienced.

    So, what is the next on the automotive front? I really don’t know, but the Buick Encore is very tempting…

  • avatar
    PeterKK

    Elio clones!

  • avatar
    DanyloS

    Doug, Funny you metion the blackwood… I just saw one in manhattan this week. Firs one I’ve seen in ages. Ofcourse the rear suspension airbags were gonners like every other Lincoln.

  • avatar
    S1L1SC

    Realistically: Passenger versions of Small Vans – Transit Connect is already there…

    Wishlist: I would love something like an El Camino with a bed cover, fold flat jumpseats and retractable roof… But they would probably sell as many as they did the above mentioned GMC XUV.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      I sat in a people Transit and Promaster at CAS, and people watched for awhile. Most including myself seemed to look at the painted metal inside and drab plastics, thinking “Now why would I want this more than the Caravan (which I already don’t want) when it costs more?”

      There were more in the conversion van area that were decked out, but I didn’t get the chance to see what could have been. Not another soul in that area either.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    I think I only ever saw one Lincoln Blackwood, and it was on a tow truck.

    I’ve seen quite a few Envoy XUVs, though. Kudos to GM for making 11 distinct vehicles off one SUV platform.

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    *crosses fingers
    Please be coupes, please be coupes, please be coupes

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      You’d think this would go hand in hand with a population that either isn’t having kids or else had theirs decades ago.

      • 0 avatar
        DevilsRotary86

        In my case this is odd because I do have a 5 year old. But really, kids and coupes mix just fine. Open door, flip seat forward, “Please get in angel”. She is starting to be able to flip the seat forward on her own too! Now when she was an infant it was a challenge, but easily overcome.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          Is she big enough that she doesn’t need any sort of booster seat? That’s partially what killed coupes–all that wrangling with big awkward seats through a little opening was no fun.

          Of course, look who’s talking. I sat in the back of a SuperCab (another great flip-forward seat vehicle) until I was 12.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    Based on current sales, we’re trending towards it being the full-size truck. In my opinion, it’s because it combines a high hip-point with the ride, feel and torque-rich goodness of a ’96 Fleetwood, which is a car that CAFE laws would never allow for today. And when the CAFE laws start coming after 1/2-tons, everybody will migrate to 3/4- and 1-tons.

  • avatar

    The Lincoln Blackwood, along with the later Mark LT Lincoln pickup truck, will eventually be collectible the way Canadian Mercury and Fargo pickups are collectible. The Blackwood is a particularly unusual vehicle in that it was on sale for just one model year. That’s like a tv show that is canceled after the first episode.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    It’s not necessarily a segment in and of itself, but I think that the next big thing will be suicide door systems as found on BMW’s i3. Parents of youngsters will want them for the ease of loading kids into car seats, and oldsters will want them for the ease of stashing canes/walkers behind the front seats when entering/exiting the vehicle. Seriously, my wife’s grandfather recently traded his like-new Grand Marquis for a Charger just to be able to facilitate walkers for himself and his wife. We’ll see these door systems on everything from SUVs to sub-compact hatches.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    I would like to see that true Wrangler Unlimited competitor, preferably from Toyota. The FJ was weak, and ugly. A better version could work, because Jeep reliabilty is still not great.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Toyota still makes the J70.

      They just don’t import it here, because it’s not worth the effort.

      (Sure, some people want a serious off-roader, and want Toyota reliability over Jeep issues … but are there enough of them, and will they pay the price premium?

      Same reason Rover doesn’t import the Defender. Well, that and the Defender *still* lacks airbags.)

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Yes Sigivald, I’m afraid you are correct. I don’t think Toyota is going to go through the time and expense just to sell one to me and a couple of other dudes. Damn you, Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Well there are those pesky crash standard…the bones of the 70 series go back to what…like 1984? But yes, I’d buy one but they’d screw it up with leather, power everything, auto, and a gas v6 in a similar fashion to how they screw up the big cruiser for the US market.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    station wagons…

    But of course they won’t call them wagons. Notice that the Audi Q7 is due to get lower and “sporty-er”. Others will follow suit.

    Soon our CUVs won’t have 7 or 8 in of ground clearance, they’ll have 4 or 5 like most cars do.

    Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh… don’t tell the soccer moms.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    Compact tall wagons. It’s a segment just waiting for someone to introduce a product that people get excited about.

    There have been plenty of individual success stories in the segment — the first-gen xB, the current Soul, the Fit — but they haven’t managed to create a trend. I think the first manufacturer that figures out the right styling to make these mainstream will sell them like crazy.

  • avatar
    RS

    Larger vehicles with diesel drivetrains – as opposed to smaller vehicles with diesel drivetrains. 1/2 ton Pickups will lead the way and follow the sales trail Ram started. Ford will probably be next.

    • 0 avatar
      Mandalorian

      The only way this will happen is if gas is $15 a gallon. Pickup trucks, sure why not. But something like a Suburban? No, the $8k diesel engine premium is too hard to justify.

      • 0 avatar
        RS

        MPG regulations will drive this – not fuel cost or other considerations, which the EPA could care less about. Diesel may be the only way to get there. The first round of Hybrid’s didn’t get close.

  • avatar
    colin42

    This is is more a wish list but here’s hoping…

    Mid size minivans aka Ford S-max

    Wagons (offer 4 wheel if needed drive aka Outback, xc70)

    Vans with affordable camping options that can seat 6 aka eurovan weekender

  • avatar
    Sobro

    Cubes with suicide doors.

    You’ll ride slightly taller than sedans, have a real greenhouse for outward visibilty, optical illusion of largeness for “safety”, flexibility with the interior regarding seats and loading areas, be narrower than the eurovans, and makers will have the ability to lengthen or shorten, raise or lower via wheel size, and decontent or upmarket to their wildest imaginations.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      You mean the Element?

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        Yes, but with a ride and an interior aimed at more than the mountain-bike set.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          I dunno, I drove a friend’s Element and found the ride perfectly acceptable.

          Remember, no matter what it ain’t gonna be aimed at the “If It Ain’t An M3 It’s Nothing” enthusiast set.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            No, and it will still be tough to sell this to seniors because of the styling. About 8-9 years ago I tried to convince my father-in-law to consider an Element or an xB when he was replacing his Town Car. I had been hearing how these cars were popular with seniors who appreciated the ease of entry/exit. He mocked my suggestion and got an Avalon, which he could barely get into and out of within 3 years. I think that the wider popularity of SUV/CUVs and boxy cars like the Soul will make the sale a little easier, tho.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Next big segment:

    The AWD all-weather coupe, or AWD-AWC. We’ve seen them as concepts from Audi and Aston Martin, as well as Volvo, and I think BMW is headed that way as well. It’s the next logical evolution from the CUV’s we are seeing now. It’s just a CUV which is less practical and more selfish, and thus more desirable and luxurious.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    First-off let’s establish a ground rule: if Buick sells it, it’s no longer hot.

    I vote for FWD-based pickups. Nobody thought FWD minivans had a chance in hell in 1980, but they defined their era.

    2nd choice: tall sedans. We just need to wait for one brand to release a tall sedan that doesn’t look like a regular sedan with a lift kit.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      The tall sedan craze will usher in a resurgence of high hat and hair wearing. Prime choices being Top hats and beehive hairstyles.

      • 0 avatar
        David

        Thumbs up for @ heavy handle and cpthaddock comments.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Funny comments but lets be honest. Don’t CUVs look like the old sedans and fastback sedans of the late 30s and 40s? Picture the silhouette of both.

          Probably the best examples are the Pilot, RDX, Highlander…

          And you can wear a hat in one. :)

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            Indeed. Compare the numbers on a ’49 Ford wagon and a ’15 Flex and you’ll find they’re within a few inches of each other — in length, width, and height.

            Even the ground clearance was similar — 8″ was fairly typical through the ’50s.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    If I were a betting man (I’m not) I’d say it won’t be car companies.

    We’ve all seen the froth about Apple building a car. They will produce one vehicle with a handful of revolutionary features using high end materials.

    If you question the superiority of the Apple car people will look at you as if you’re a peasant unable to appreciate the finer things in life.

    You will only be able to drive on Apple approved roads unless you jailbreak it, which will invalidate your auto insurance.

    When you encounter design flaws, you’ll be expected to be grateful for all of the other wonderful aspects of your Apple car and stop complaining.

    Large families will tell you they are perfectly happy doubling up on seating and that the commensurate halving of range is a price well worth paying.

    The same basic model of car will stay in production for two decades receiving only minor changes to trim and color, because of course it was perfect in the first place.

    Apple will eventually take the top 30% of the market, leaving legacy automakers with only one option: Use of the Google Project Ara 2 car module system.

    ….

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Whoever said coupees may be on to something. I doubt it will outsell sedans or CUV’s, but the market for coupes should grow soon enough.
    But we’re not talking 1st gen Dodge Chargers or even Sciroccios, we will basically be getting a 2 door Honda Element again. Most likely built by VW, and it will be ‘the first in it’s class’ , and ‘the hottest thing since sliced bread’. Expect decent practicality, diesels, wide C-pillars (especially in the Audi version) and possibly no mechanical drivetrain between the engine and the wheels, as the wheels will be electrically driven.
    The electric drivetrain will help manufacturers let the designers more creative, while still being able to increase crash safety and improve and simplify traction control (and braking) systems and economy. And it will make it a lot easier to make one model that can run on any sort of power or number of driven wheels with little variation in the parts needed or manufacturing process. (just replace the engine with a diesel, or battery, or have both as a hybrid, without changing the drivetrain or platform of the car.)
    I should trademark and copyright this post…
    Not that anyone will believe that the lovechild of a Volt and an Element will ever be the future…
    (and it will have ‘Musk’ batteries)

  • avatar
    Ratsnake

    My vote for new trend would be an automotive equivalent of “disposable fashion”: a car with distinctive looks or interesting mechanicals, but at a lower price. The world might be coming to the Fiat 500, in other words–but the same kind of “attitude” and cheaper price can be done with other form factors. Something like a Citroen Cactus could do well in the US.

  • avatar
    Aphidman

    There’s aught wrong wi’ grandfather clock transports, lad! :-)

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Brougham badges and front bench seats baby! Happy days are here again.

  • avatar
    insalted42

    I’m surprised no one here has really mentioned my number one bet for the next high-growth growth segment: Mini-MPVs.

    I’m not talking Ford S-Maxs and MP-5s, I mean Euro style MPVs like the Opel Meriva, Ford B-Max, Kia Venga, etc.

    Think about it: yuppy millennials in urban areas are aging and starting to have kids. Sure, most of them in the next few years are gonna go for small Crossovers. But what happens in 5-10 years when non-conformist hipsters are looking for a family hauler, but everyone and their mom has a Crossover. Minivans are too obvious and wagons probably aren’t going to make a comeback either (they haven’t yet, they may never again).

    I say, it seems obvious that when 28-year old Jane starts looking for something more practical to haul her 2 kids around Berkeley, why not something small, but family friendly like a Buick Meriva, Hyundai ix20, or a VW-badged Skoda Roomster?

    They’re all small, gas-friendly, and euro-funky in a way that will help Jane forget that she lives in the racist, imperialist haven of crony-capitalism that is the USA.

    Something like this is too niche to ever blow up the way Crossovers did, but something like a Meriva or Roomster could do well enough with young urban families and older people that would’ve gone for a Scion xB circa 2007 to create a new (ish) segment.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      For one, I think anything with a sliding door in the back is anathema in this market. Otherwise, someone would have bought the Mazda 5, right? That rules out about half of what you mentioned.

      I could totally see the Meriva as a Buick — except Opel is replacing it with a SUV next year:
      http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/vauxhall/zafira/89200/vauxhall-zafira-and-meriva-to-become-suvs-in-2016

      I think this is the right idea, though. Just one segment up and with swinging doors, most likely.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Hot luxury crossovers are the CURRENT hot segment. The NEXT hot segment will be mid-size sedans with low belt-lines, a tall greenhouse, V8 engines with RWD, velour upholstery, column shifters and bench front seats.

  • avatar
    drivrBob

    Considering that I got my Cross Over, a 2000 Subaru Forester, about 15 years ago, I could maybe a trend setter. If that’s the case then maybe sport wagons will be the next trend!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The next big segment or design. Rear engine subcompacts and roadsters. The new Renault Twingo which is the platform for the new Smart 4 Two is a fine example. A 3 or 4 banger tucked in the rear under the hatch still allows plenty of room for cargo and a usable rear seat plus a nicely sized “frunk” that easily holds a suitcase or two. A roadster version could be the Boxster for those of us who don’t have $60-75k.

  • avatar
    dahammer

    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.

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