Crossovers often get mocked by auto journalists as “tall wagons.” These scribes – and there are many, myself included, who have used this term – don’t understand why people don’t buy actual wagons.
Indeed, just the other day, the section of the Twitterverse reserved for auto writers had a discussion about why the public likes the much-loathed crossover so much.
There’s the obvious reason, of course – most of the people in the car-buying public are either not car enthusiasts, or they’re enthusiasts forced into crossover life by budget and life needs. We’ve been over this before.
What's the Volvo XC40 Getting Into? America's Subcompact Luxury Crossover Segment Is Tiny But Growing Fast
Of the 1.4 million new vehicles sold in the United States of America each month, premium auto brands account for slightly more than one out of every ten new vehicle acquisitions.
More than 55 percent of the vehicles now sold by premium auto brands in America are utility vehicles. Of the nearly 100,000 luxury SUVs/crossovers sold in America each month, 7 percent are subcompacts, vehicles positioned below the compact BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, and a variety others.
It’s a sliver of a slice of a chunk of a pie. But that sliver is growing far faster than the overall U.S. auto market, far faster than the U.S. luxury vehicle market, and far faster than the U.S. luxury SUV/crossover market.
Into that four-vehicle premium subcompact crossover segment now jumps the Volvo XC40, timed to roughly coincide with the arrival of the Jaguar E-Pace. It’s a segment that, to date, no automaker has yet found a way to dominate.
Depending where you live, it’s possible the shift away from luxury cars to luxury SUVs is dramatically more apparent than America’s nationwide figures suggest.
In 48 of 50 states, luxury utility vehicles outsell luxury cars. In seven states, premium brand utility vehicles form more than 65 percent of the premium market.
But according to Edmunds, the two states in which luxury cars still outperform luxury utility vehicles account for 31 percent of America’s luxury SUV market.
Little more than 18 months from now, BMW’s utility vehicle lineup will be dramatically altered, primed to absorb rising SUV demand in an increasingly anti-car market.
According to Australia’s Motoring, BMW will expand its entry-level utility vehicle lineup — BMW calls them SAVs — in early 2018 and the top end of the brand’s SAV lineup by late 2018.
The production BMW X2, due early next year, was previewed by the Concept X2 at 2016’s Paris auto show. BMW’s long-awaited Mercedes-Benz GLS challenger, the BMW X7, is a late-2018 arrival.
But the expansion of the BMW SAV lineup is only part of the story, as new versions of the SAVs currently sitting at the heart of BMW’s lineup will arrive in short order, as well.
Bernhard Kuhnt takes over as the chief executive officer of BMW’s U.S. outpost on March 1, Automotive News reports, replacing BMW’s western hemisphere boss, Ludwig Willisch, who is likely to retire by the end of the decade.
BMW sales grew year after year during Willisch’s tenure, reaching annual records in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. There were, at times, questionable tactics employed to maintain rapid growth.
Yet in 2016, as U.S. auto sales shot to record levels, BMW’s U.S. volume plunged by more than 9 percent. In 12 consecutive months, U.S. sales declined on year-over-year terms. At BMW’s Mini brand, three years after volume climbed to record levels in 2013, sales fell to a six-year low in 2016.
And yet no automaker is incentivizing to such a lofty degree.
Forget last year’s record sales achievements in BMW USA’s showrooms. Through the first six months of 2016, sales at the BMW Group’s BMW brand are down 9 percent in the United States, a first-half pace which suggests BMW sales will fall to a three-year low even as the overall new vehicle market continues to grow.
Not only is BMW’s car division off last year’s pace by more than 20,000 sales, or 18 percent, the brand’s three most costly utility vehicles — X4, X5, X6 — are down 22 percent. Yes, the overall car market is fading, but BMW’s 22-percent car decline is far worse than the U.S. auto industry’s 8-percent drop in car sales. And the 24-percent decrease in, for instance, sales of the BMW X5 stands in stark contrast to the 8-percent increase in the overall SUV/crossover market.
There are nevertheless bright lights in the BMW lineup.
Among passenger cars, the one car that most clearly exemplifies BMW’s old Ultimate Driving Machine credo, the 2 Series, is the BMW car that’s growing fastest. By far.
Among crossovers, the BMW which most flies in the face of everything the BMW cognoscenti value about BMW, the X1, is the BMW SAV division’s fastest-growing vehicle. By far.
When is a BMW not a BMW? Some would say: when it has four wheels. Others will say: when it’s front wheel drive. But here we are. BMW’s smallest crossover has ditched its BMW 3-Series roots for underpinnings shared with the Mini Countryman.
Americans may be surprised to hear that the X1 is not BMW’s first front driver. Neither is it the last BMW with a transverse engine. Our European friends will soon be seeing the 2 Series Gran Tourer — a small 7-seat … minivan. Yes, a BMW minivan. What’s that sound, you ask? Minds blowing.
For purists, the notion of a trio of transverse-engined BMWs prowling around the countryside is an abomination; an affront to everything E46 M3 owners holds sacred.
For the rest of you? It’s no big deal. Seriously.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the introduction of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, and its larger minivan sibling, the Gran Tourer. I was in the midst of preparing an editorial on the introduction of the Gran Tourer, a front-wheel drive minivan based on the Mini-derived UKL platform, when I saw news that the X1, my current favorite BMW, is going to be based on UKL as well. Apparently, it will also look “more like an X car.” When the current X1 dies, it will mark the end of an era for BMW.
In the span of two months, the BMW X1 went from possessing no true direct German competition to finding challengers on two fronts.
That’s not to say the X1 was never a viable, though slightly smaller, challenger to the rivals of BMW’s own X3. But the X1 was sitting on the bottom rung of the ladder, and it’s no longer resting their on its own.
For all of Hyundai’s successes in Europe, it is conspicuously absent in perhaps the lone major growth segment on the continent; small crossovers. We’re not talking “small” in the sense of the Hyundai Tucson either. Think more along the lines of the Opel Mokka (our Buick Encore), the Ford EcoSport and the Dacia Duste r. Even premium brands are getting into the fold, with the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLA vying for market share.
Reuters is reporting that BMW is discussing a possible arrangement with the soon-to-be dormant NedCar plant that once built the Volvo S40 and various Mitsubishi cars.
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