Dampened by high gas prices, the auto industry has faced tough times selling large sport utility vehicles lately. But with demand still high from families wanting plenty of space, carmakers may have an antidote: the crossover.
Crossovers such as the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, built on car platforms that give motorists more of a car-like ride, are expected to outsell traditional SUVs in 2006 for the first time.
Automakers are touting several new designs of the models, called CUVs, at the North American International Auto Show. The Detroit showcase started media previews Sunday and opens to the public Saturday.
Dealerships are expected to have plenty to offer in the crossover market in 2006, with about 50 models available, analysts said. That’s up from 41 last year and just over a dozen in 2000.
“It’s the sedan of the next decade,” said Michael Robinet, an auto analyst with CSM Worldwide.
Ford Motor Co. unveiled the 2007 Edge on Sunday, offering a vehicle it said would “shake up” the crossover market. The Edge boasts performance with a 250-horsepower V-6 engine and is expected to attract fuel-conscious consumers with miles per gallon in the mid-20s for highway driving.
Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said the Edge would arrive in showrooms next fall. With a panoramic glass roof and three-bar grille, the vehicle also offers an opportunity to attract consumers who may have been less-than-satisfied with the styling of past offerings.
“If you look at the CUV right now, it’s populated by a lot of vehicles, that, quite honest, are somewhat nondescript,” Fields said.
On Monday, the Ford division that produces the Lincoln Town Car and the Navigator unveiled the Lincoln MKX luxury crossover. The letters stand for and are pronounced Mark X. The vehicle is slated to go on sale in late 2006.
Hyundai Motor Co. showcased its all-new Santa Fe, an update of the sport utility vehicle model first introduced in 2000. The automaker said it took cues from luxury crossovers such as the Lexus RX, Acura MDX and Volvo XC90.
“We call it SUV, maybe even call it kind of a crossover. It still has that family functionality but also for people that don’t have children to be able to fit their active lifestyle,” said Bob Cosmai, Hyundai’s president and chief executive officer.
Mazda Motor Corp. unveiled its CX-7 crossover, developed specifically for the North American market. Chief Executive Hisakazu Imaki said the vehicle would be launched within four months.
Other automakers were unfurling crossover designs this week, including the Jeep Compass.
While no one is writing the obituary of the SUV, the crossovers are emerging as consumers grow accustomed to more than $2 per gallon gas prices and continue to express a desire for more interior space and the ability to navigate rough terrain. Large SUV sales dropped following Hurricane Katrina and a bump in gas prices. Both General Motors Corp. and Ford saw their SUV sales fall.
Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Massachusetts-based Global Insight, said for crossovers, the “timing is perfect because people are so sensitive to gas prices but they don’t want to give up the utility.”
“We don’t see Americans — Americans specifically — going back to small cars,” Lindland said.
Through the first 11 months of 2005, the Ford Escape led the way in crossover sales, with 153,000 vehicles sold. It was followed by the Honda CR-V, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Equinox.