Automakers to feed SUV craze with small to large utes
New York — From big, to bigger and bigger yet, automakers are introducing new SUVs at a fast clip to satisfy demand for vehicles to haul families and all their stuff. That was evident at the New York Auto Show this week, where outsize SUVs were unveiled even as investors at least temporarily made a tiny maker of electric cars in Silicon Valley worth more than General Motors Co.
Beefy SUVs were the order of the show.
Subaru, which pioneered the idea of crossovers, showed its first full-size SUV: the three-row, seven-seat Ascent. Even though it was presented as a concept vehicle, Subaru said it will build the vehicle in Indiana next year.
Lincoln took the wraps off its all-new 2018 Navigator full-size SUV, a three-row offering that stretches a few inches past the current generation on the road. It will sell an even longer version of the big SUV than what was shown.
Luxury-maker Infiniti introduced its jumbo QX80 Monograph design study, which looked as solid as a Sherman tank. Buick took the wraps off the completely redesigned 2018 midsize Buick Enclave, and was quick to point out that it gains 10 percent more interior space.
And there were more.
Last year, nearly 40 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. were SUVs. By 2020, they could account for 45 percent of the market, maybe more, depending on gas prices and regulatory issues, according to researcher LMC Automotive.
Automakers will continue to add more SUV choices, Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting with LMC Automotive, said in an interview at the New York show. “There’s just an onslaught of products coming,” he said.
Subaru was pushed by market forces to offer a larger offering in order to retain its owners of Outbacks and Foresters.
“Millennials are now in their family-formation stages. And Subaru missed that with the baby boomer generation because we didn’t have a seven- or eight-passenger SUV,” Tom Doll, president and chief operating officer of Subaru of America Inc., told reporters. “This provides that for us and allows our customers to move up as they grow.”
Other automakers are adding niche sizes to fill gaps between the big and the not-so-big.
Volkswagen AG confirmed Wednesday at the show that it will add a new SUV based off the same architecture of its upcoming 2018 Atlas seven-seat SUV. The smaller five-seat variant is still unnamed. Hinrich Woebcken, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Inc., would not say when it would be introduced.
The German brand will keep its current compact Tiguan in the lineup as it begins sales later this year of its 2018 version, which has a longer wheelbase. The re-named Tiguan Limited will remain in the lineup for at least a few years and will serve as an entry point into Volkswagen’s SUVs.
“We’re doing this because ... the SUV segment is so large that there is very easy and enough space for two Tiguans,” Woebcken said.
Range Rover is another maker filling the gaps in its SUV lineup. New York was the setting for the North American debut of its Velar mid-size SUV as a mid-size model slotted between the small Evoque and the larger Discovery and Discovery Sport. In truth, the Velar is a less-rugged version of the Discoveries. The sumptuous Velar is meant for less-adventurous pursuits, yet still tows 5,500 pounds.
Other makes taking the wraps off SUVs in New York included Volvo, which showed its new 2018 XC60 compact SUV. Hyundai luxury-brand Genesis revealed its GV80 Concept, a fuel-cell SUV with a modernistic design.
Jeep, which debuted its 707-horsepower 2018 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk at the show, is reviving the Grand Wagoneer and Wagoneer for its lineup in 2020. There’s demand for big SUVs in the U.S. as fuel economy has improved, Jeep boss Mike Manley said. The larger three-row entries will help meet demand from Jeep customers for three rows, he said.
“A lot of people have moved into the three-row space. This will bring us back,” Manley said in an interview. “There’s opportunity for other three-row SUVs as well. Around the world there’s an emergence of midsize, three-row SUVs. We will have in China a three-row midsize SUV, a size below Grand Cherokee.”
Ford plans to add five new SUVs to its North American lineup by 2020.
“We’ve never seen higher SUV sales,” Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst and director of pricing and industry analysis for Edmunds, said in an interview. “In the first quarter of 2017, over 40 percent of vehicles sold were SUVs.”
Caldwell believes there’s room for carmakers to add more SUV variants at the lower end of the market — and for more large body-on-frame models at the other end.
Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., said he sees the preference toward SUVs and trucks as a permanent shift in the industry — and one that will continue to grow. The automaker has been making investments to crank out more SUVs to meet demand.
LMC’s Schuster sees no end in sight.
“They want SUVs in all sizes, shapes and price points,” he said.
Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne contributed.