By on July 11, 2017

2017 Honda CR-V Touring – Image: Honda

What’s big these days? You know the answer. Avocados. Leasing. Saying “it me” on Twitter. But above all else, crossovers and SUVs.

Not only have utility vehicles become the driving force in the North American automotive marketplace, ownership of these versatile vehicles is apparently becoming harder and harder to quit. More than ever, owners of crossovers and SUVs find themselves bolting from their old utility vehicle into a brand new one.

As for sedan buyers, never has love drained so quickly from a relationship.

A just-published study by IHS Markit shows what surging, and seemingly unstoppable, utility sales have already implied. Americans are in love with their car. More specifically, they’re in love with the country’s hottest bodystyle — one that’s increasingly hard to say “no” to after having a taste.

Since overtaking passenger cars just one year ago, the utility vehicle segment has only continued gobbling up more market share, relegating cars to an ever-distant second place. In the first half of 2017, passenger cars amounted to 36.9 percent of U.S. sales. Meanwhile, crossover and SUV sales ate up 41.4 percent of the market. Remember, just last year the two segments were tied.

In the first four months of 2017, U.S. car owners who returned to the market provided ample evidence for the continuation of this trend.

Of the SUV and CUV owners who went shopping between January and April, 66.2 percent of them hopped into another utility vehicle, IHS Markit found. The loyalty rate within that segment far outstrips the industry average of 52.6 percent. Not only do two-thirds of utility owners now go home to their wife, ever greater numbers of them are doing so. Five years ago, the SUV loyalty rate was 52.9 percent.

Compare that to sedans, which saw customer loyalty drop from 56.2 percent in 2012 to 48.6 percent in April of this year. While the sedan segment stands to shrink further, automakers can’t dream up enough new crossover and SUV models. Utility vehicles offer companies salvation in a slowly sliding market.

“The exceptionally high loyalty of SUV/CUV households is driven by continued proliferation of crossover models across a wide range of size, price and functionality,” said Tom Libby, manager of automotive loyalty and industry analysis at IHS Markit, in a statement. “In some cases this proliferation has resulted in two or even three models in the same segment from the same brand.”

Why offer just a Rogue when buyers might also prefer a slightly smaller Rogue Sport? Why wouldn’t a compact Outlander Sport demand the addition of a compact Eclipse Cross as well? Maybe a lineup already home to the Escape, Edge, Explorer, Flex, and Expedition isn’t complete without an EcoSport and Bronco?

As automakers struggle to fill in any perceived gaps in crossover coverage, another segment has also seen its customer loyalty soar: trucks. In April, 50.9 percent of pickup owners traded in their old truck for a new one, up significantly from 42.5 percent in 2012. Coupe, van, convertible, and hatchback loyalty, by comparison, all increased by a very slight margin — though the growing demand for utilities among first-time buyers means you’re seeing fewer of these vehicles on the road.

[Image: Honda]

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46 Comments on “Stand By Your Crossover: Loyalty Skyrocketing Among Utility Owners, Study Finds...”

  • avatar

    This article says a whole lot of nothing. What’s next, a Kardashian or Amelia Earhart story?

    • 0 avatar

      The article says, quite plainly, that crossover buyers are more likely to stay in the same vehicle class than buyers in other segments. It’s your comment that says a whole lot of nothing.

      • 0 avatar

        I think its just more evidence of what everyone already knew… and it caps it of by saying that CUV buyers are generally even more loyal to the *one brand* than other segments.

        I suppose because in other segments there may be ‘unique selling points’ that make people jump?

        The CUV ‘phase’ has been going on for almost two decades now?

        We started with the 1st gen CRV. And since then we had multiple CRVs CX5s and Xtrail Rogues.

        We would stick with these models, not seeing a need to move to Lexus, nor seeing value with the Koreans or Ford GM. And also, many see Subaru’s 4wd approach as being unecessary baggage ironically enough.

        I personally dont see CUVs as such a bad trend simply because I didnt think the Japanese FWD medium sedan thing thru rose tinted glasses like many of you.

        The CUV leaves me cold as an appliance. The Honda Accord Toyota Camry thing of 30yrs ago left me cold (even the V6 4 spd auto of that era wasnt anything useful).

        So in that regard I’m fully prepared for the EV boredom that is coming.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Are we talking about loyalty to the segment, or loyalty to a brand?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m unclear on that as well. My best guess is to the segment. Nothing was said about, say, Honda buyers trading in Hondas or what have you. I believe its saying once you go CUV, you rarely go back.

      • 0 avatar

        Occasionally I hear folks lament the end of the RWD Panther style sedan.

        I’d argue that the CUV is as close as we’ll get in 2017.

        We get the ability to carry people or stuff or sometimes both. We get an added bonus of slick road traction if equipped correctly. Sometimes these CUVs can tow.

        I don’t miss the BoF sedans and wagons. I have the same amount of space in my midsize CUV, better MPG (27.5 mpg on an out of town trip recently), and plenty of power.

        We can spend $25K or $55K. Or more if you buy a Tesla.

        What’s the problem? Maybe this blurs the lines too much and some folks can’t handle it.

        Is it a car? Is it an off-road vehicle? Is it a wagon? Is it a minivan.

        Who cares. If you like them, buy one. If you don’t don’t fret over it.

        Meanwhile we’ll keep the comfortable seats, three rows, AWD, trailer package, etc. And we’ll keep our 1st gen CRV for around town and the county saving the newer, nicer CUV for out of town trips.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A clear sign of my approaching senescence. These things all look like indistinguishable blobs to me . . . except they seem to come in different sizes. Yes, I own one (a 2008 Honda Pilot) but, to me, they are the paradigm of car-as-appliance. If this is the future of the auto industry, then it is dim. The Honda is probably good for several more years; there’s nothing new on the market in that category that attracts me.

    • 0 avatar

      You articulate my thoughts.

      • 0 avatar

        Much of the same could be said about sedans in the 60s-70s-80s.

        • 0 avatar

          I think it’s cyclical, much like fashion. The CUVs of today are the station wagons of old. Sedans will make a comeback when everyone gets tired of CUVs, or there’s a major energy crisis.

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t know, some of them are getting car like mileage now. 27 mpg city and highway for the recent MDX hybrid. I imagine fuel economy will continue to creep upwards as time passes.

    • 0 avatar

      “If this is the future of the auto industry, then it is dim.”

      Reliable, fuel-efficient, multi-functional vehicles that meet buyers’ wants and needs, get good fuel economy, and routinely last for 15+ years with minimal maintenance?

      Yeah, sounds rough.

    • 0 avatar

      For most buyers, practical transportation (appliance) is what they want. As long as more dynamically apt cars, are banned from exercising their dynamic superiority (speed limits, “reckless driving,” blah, blah) vis a vis a stepvan, why not take the extra space that goes with the latter?

    • 0 avatar

      Right, cars all became appliances only within this century.

  • avatar

    After a 50+ year flirtation with longer, lower and wider, the American (and arguably world) consumer has said enough. It’s like we’ve just discovered what our grandfathers drove – a ’56 Chevrolet with decent view of the road, enough go from stop, and a pleasant ride. Make it a station wagon to haul kids and stuff, and you have every medium-sized SUV today:
    1956 Chevrolet station wagon (all dimensions in inches)
    Length – 197.5 in.
    Width – 74.0 in.
    Height – 60.8 in.
    Wheelbase – 115.0 in.
    Grnd. Clrnc. – 7.5 in.
    Frnt Legroom – 43.5 in.
    Frnt Hdroom – 35.5 in.
    Rr Legroom – 42.0 in.
    Rr Hdroom – 34.9 in.

    2017 Honda Pilot
    Length – 194.5 in.
    Width – 78.6 in.
    Height – 69.8 in.
    Wheelbase – 111.0 in.
    Grnd. Clrnc. – 7.3 in.
    Frnt Legroom – 40.9 in.
    Frnt Hdroom – 39.5 in.
    Rr Legroom – 38.4 in.
    Rr Hdroom – 39.9 in.

    If sedans and wagons had the general dimensions of that ’56, I’d expect the fall-off in sales to SUV’s might be much slower.

    Just for fun:
    2018 Buick TourX (Wagon)
    Length – 196.3 in.
    Width – 74.0 in.
    Height – 58.4 in.
    Wheelbase – 111.4 in.

  • avatar

    Who is this Steph Willems anyway?
    Another TTAC sedan-nut suffering denial as his favorite vehicles evaporate?

    He asked, “What’s big these days? You know the answer. Avocados. Leasing. Saying “it me” on Twitter. But above all else, crossovers and SUVs.”

    Not. Not above all else crossovers and SUV’s.
    Above all else PICKUP TRUCKS, crossovers, and SUVS!


  • avatar

    I’m pretty loyal to Honda, now on my third one (counting my beloved 92 Acura Integra LS). We’ll probably keep buying Hondas because they do everything that we ask them to do without fail.

    Which is important for my family.

  • avatar

    Not surprising that once you go “SUV” you never go back. While I love the feel of driving a properly tuned sports car, the basic fact is that I live with a finite amount of resources at my disposal (let’s call that “cash”). Vehicles are not an inexpensive utilization of that resource, so I have to make choices on what best maximizes the expenditure of that resource. I’m not in a position of owning a stable of vehicles for each and every option of driving needs, so I pick one that checks as many boxes as it can. Now granted, when I bought said vehicle (full disclosure, bought a used 2014 Escape) I didn’t have my adopted daughter yet and all that her activities bring with it, which is why I tend to borrow my sister’s ’11 Explorer. But that is neither here nor there. If/when I go to replace the Escape, it likely will be another SUV, although a minivan is mighty tempting for the overall utility it brings vice a SUV. We can debate that argument another time, as the minivan is likely truly the more “utilitarian” vehicle, but it would seem a vast majority of owners can’t get past the “soccer mom” stereotype.

    My only real issue is the desire of manufacturers to fill every single perceived size gap with a different model. If they see even a sliver of daylight between models, there is a rush to plug that gap with yet another variant (does Ford really need the Ecosport here? I’ve seen them up close and it reminds me of a Focus/Fiesta slightly elevated…but I guess a modicum of ground clearance and cladding around the wheels cures all ills).

    • 0 avatar

      It’s looking like the EcoSport is going to *replace* the Fiesta, rather than supplementing it. Not surprising, given the Fiesta’s unpopularity and the success of other subcompact SUVs like the Buick Encore and Honda HR-V.

  • avatar

    In the same way people are loyal to wearing Crocs.

    • 0 avatar

      Well Crocs do get the job done. Of course folks who put “cool” above all else are vocal critics and the rest of us are supposed to fall in behind them b/c they are our cultural leadership aka the fashion police.

      If you want to wear Crocs what does it matter whether anyone else likes them or not?

      I’m old enough to have witnessed many things get cool and then get uncool and then openly ridiculed. Fuck ’em. Most people are so fickle they probably change their minds about stuff like this five times a month.

      Disclaimer: I do have an old pair of Crocs around here for checking the mail when it rains. They are paint stained, the straps are gone, and the color is faded. I don’t care whether anyone likes them or not.

      Newsflash: People try to control other people.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I like this article as it displays the whys of most vehicle purchases.

    Most vehicle are not bought for handling, tow and FE.

    If one combines the 75% of daily driving pickup owners with the CUV/SUV crowd you can see people with enough affluence want versatility in a vehicle so you don’t need to tow.

    And if you don’t have the cash you would most likely drive a car or more and more a sh!tter pickup, CUV/SUV.

    This really displays how much people give a fnck about the environment or EVs for that matter.

    • 0 avatar

      Whats the problem. The current medium sized CUVs or smaller get better gas mileage than the tiniest CUVs and many of the cars from 15 years ago.

      People care but not to the exclusion of all other things.

      Everything will be okay until the next gasoline price spike. ;)

  • avatar

    BREAKING NEWS!!!!!1111!!1!!!

    Stupid people are stupid, do stupid stuff, and buy stupid things. If the stupid people are willing to pay the SUV/CUV tax for their high CG and low MPG station wagons, great. I will continue to buy conventional manual transmission wagons.

    Wait… um, crap. There are no more conventional wagons with manual transmissions.

  • avatar

    This essay says nothing, and in so very many words.

    This one line from the very end says everything we need to know: “Coupe, van, convertible, and hatchback loyalty, by comparison, all increased by a very slight margin — though the growing demand for utilities among first-time buyers means you’re seeing fewer of these vehicles on the road.”

    So there you have it– loyalists are loyalists, so long as their vehicle is still available. When their vehicle is no longer available? They buy what the manufacturers are selling in their place.

    Can’t buy what isn’t available.

  • avatar

    I’m not much for anecdotes, but I got to see a neighbor down the street get their new KL Cherokee get flatbed-towed this morning by AAA (who the heck knows, may have jest been a dead battery?). I wonder how much loyalty the new CUV-ified Cherokee is inspiring.

  • avatar

    I’ve done the CUV thing. Owned 2 different Cherokee Trailhawks. They looked cool but other than that they really didn’t do anything for me. I’m surely a sedan guy at heart. I’ve owned several trucks too, full-size and midsize. Keep going back to sedans. Maybe I’m old skool. Im a dying bread for sure, or at least shrinking bread.

  • avatar

    Oh how this song will change once gas prices inevitably reverse their trend and hit $4+…

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Not a chance.

      I remember way back when – say 2012 – when gas was $4+ per gallon. The F-150 was the best-selling vehicle at that time.

      People’s car buying habits only change during spikes in price, but not in the long run.

      Personally, I wouldn’t be thrilled with a 22 mpg CUV in city driving.

      • 0 avatar

        Adjust your lifestyle and career slowly so you aren’t too dependent on major commuting. Wife and I carpool about 7.5 miles. We could commute in a Mack truck and it wouldn’t matter much.

    • 0 avatar

      This assumes most drivers have the flexibility in their finances to change vehicles quick enough to respond to fuel prices spikes.

      I don’t think that’s true. Someone who owns their car outright, especially a slightly older one, is probably better off sticking with it rather than adding a monthly payment on top of higher fuel bills.

  • avatar

    Drove my Fiat 500 Abarth for 5 years. Loved the performance but found the car extremely uncomfortable and the wife hated it. Hadn’t been in it for 2 years.

    Looked at the Fiat 500 X trekking Plus. Found one, test drove it and bought it and got $9500.00 in discounts. Comfy, decent MPG, carries all my Costco buys and I can go camping in it with out having to worry about scraping bottom, what’s not to like other that the 9 speed trans, no roof rack if you get the dual pane sun roof.

    Now the wife, who drives a Subbie, wants to trade me, NOPE.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh and I was upset that you can’t get a manual in it unless you buy a base model… Ha, loving it.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve got a Renegade Latitude, the 500X’s brother. The Latitude is a mid-trim, but had the options I wanted along with a manual. I’ve been loving it for two years now. I do also like the 500X, though. We might end up with one if space considerations ever compel my wife to give up her beloved 500 Sport.

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    They are easier to get in and out of for us aging baby boomers and the seating position is more comfortable. The extra versatility of a hatch and extra ground clearance for snow are just an added bonus. Bending over to put the grandchildren in a car seat is a drag. Gas prices would have to triple or more before my wife would go back.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not a boomer, and those points stand.

      I think gas would gave to be closer to $10 or more for me to consider a small vehicle. However, I have no opposition or electric or hybrid options, as long as its a vehicle I would buy anyway. I took a vacation a few weeks ago, and had a Ford Fusion Hybrid as a rental. The car itself was adequate, nothing exciting, but I spent a grand total of $36 in fuel (in Hawaii,no less!) and drove close to 600 miles for the week, and got mpg in the upper 40’s overall. I’d consider a hybrid mid or full sized sedan for my next car as long as my family doesn’t have any additions. There would be no reason to downsize if I could lower my fuel usage through technology.

      I think people will still buy what they want, as long as EV and hybrid tech begin to show up in the SUV/CUV/minivan categories.

    • 0 avatar

      Ingress and egress in the BMW is no problem for us, even though we’re boomers as well. It’s the hatchback and cavernous storage in our MKX that swayed my wife. She didn’t want a van (another driver of large SUV sales I believe) but is very happy with the seats, storage, looks and surprising tossability of the Lincoln. It ticked off all the check boxes other than sheer sexiness that the E92 possesses.

  • avatar

    Funny, older people used to be able to get into their Caprice Classics with no problems. I guess the Broughamiest Generation was made of tougher stuff!

  • avatar

    At least in the B & C segments, the fuel economy and handling penalties associated with CUV’s vs sedans have noticeably narrowed in recent years. Several models such as the CX-5 and my own Renegade with the factory adjustable-damper Konis are generally considered to be quite tossable and return similar fuel economy to a comparable sedan.

  • avatar

    Are divorcing couples fighting over their crossovers now?

  • avatar

    Do people like their branded CUV vehicle or the CUV segment in general?

    Finally got a chance to drive a Toyota XLE Rav4 FWD while revisiting Houston.
    It was a decent vehicle that handled and drove relatively well and a tall person (6ft) can fit in relatively well. It perform better in Sport, not default Eco, mode.

    The issues I had was that it had terrible blind spots, even with the side mirror lenses, and the cushioning was barely acceptable though it did lack lumbar support. Didn’t gauge the fuel economy but it didn’t suck up gas much with mixed city/hwy driving, even on Sport mode.
    Wonder how it would’ve handled with AWD or as a hybrid?

    IF I was looking for a CUV, I’d like at the newer Rav4, Rogue, Tiguan or CRV though I’d prefer the hybrid model which currently limits it to the first 2 models.

    I can see why people like the CUVs though the higher cost is still an issue as well as the reliability and fuel efficiency of the vehicles.

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