SUV debuts dominate Detroit auto show

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News
General Motors shows of the all new 2018 GMC Terrain during a media preview event Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in Midtown.

Automakers are rolling out a fresh pack of SUVs at the Detroit auto show to feed buyers' appetites for crossovers and sport utilities continues to explode.

GMC debuted a redesigned 2018 Terrain compact SUV Sunday evening in Detroit as press days for the North American International Auto Show started. Volkswagen bowed a larger Tiguan SUV and Mercedes-Benz showcased a facelifted GLA small SUV.

And in a surprise, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Sunday confirmed it will build the new Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer at its Warren Truck Assembly Plant, which it will retool. They are both large luxury SUVs that Fiat Chrysler said are part of a $1 billion investment by 2020 at Warren and the Toledo Assembly Complex.

But that’s not all. On Monday, Chevrolet will reveal a new 2018 Traverse SUV. Nissan Motor Co. will debut the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport, a smaller SUV than the Rogue it will bring to the U.S. market this spring; Audi will showcase its Q8 large SUV concept. Infiniti will bow its QX50 concept midsize SUV. BMW plans to show its X2 small SUV concept. And it's rumored Ford Motor Co. may show its new large Expedition SUV.

In 2016, consumers purchased a record 17.55 million vehicles, and nearly 60 percent of them were trucks and SUVs, according to Autodata Corp. Those percentages have grown from 50-50 about three years ago; analysts and carmakers expect the demand for SUVs to keep growing.

SUVs are no longer just for towing a boat but are everyday people haulers and daily commuters.

“People just want the practicality and versatility and they don’t give up much in terms of fuel economy,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, a car shopping website.

The compact SUV segment is now the largest vehicle segment in the U.S. auto industry, taking the honor away from midsize sedans.

“There’s a lot of choice because there’s so many people in this segment that are buying them as the primary mode of transportation,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst with Edmunds.com.

Michael Bunce, vice president of product planning for Nissan North America Inc., told reporters Sunday that the company is adding more SUVs as customer hunger increases across all sizes and segments. It decided before 2016 to bring the Rogue Sport – known as the Qashquai in other global markets – to the United States.

“We’ve seen for some time the tremendous shift from cars to crossovers,” he said. “This is part of our overall preparation as a company to create a bigger percentage of our sales in crossovers. This is just one piece along the way to increase that percentage.”

Bunce said Nissan will continue its production flexibility such as at its Smyrna, Tennessee plant which builds the Nissan Altima sedan and Nissan Rogue. He said Nissan is not making any announcements to discontinue any sedans.

Fiat Chrysler last year confirmed it would stop building small cars to focus its efforts on SUV and trucks.

GM, which is debuting two new SUVs at the auto show, does not have enough crossovers in its U.S. lineup, but is adding more, Mark Reuss, head of global product development for GM, said Sunday evening.

The automaker's Cadillac luxury brand, for example, has plans to expand its portfolio with several SUVs in the next few years.

Reuss said GM plans to add some entries starting within a year in "some cool slots that the U.S. hasn’t embraced yet around utility and cars, crossovers and SUVs. There’s some things that U.S. market hasn’t embraced yet that we’re going to take advantage of." He said there will be "unexpected and cool surprises" but didnot provide specifics.

LMC Automotive predicts SUVs to represent 40 percent of the U.S. industry this year and continue growing to 42 percent to 43 percent in the next few years at the expense of cars.

“SUVs will continue to grow share in the U.S. market in 2017 and beyond,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. “The significant number of new model launches and the continuation of low fuel prices will solidify the growth.”

And automakers who have the newest products are likely to win some sales, analysts say.

However, companies have to be careful they don’t build too many variants. “Automakers are trying to figure out how many can we build, maintain the profitability, but not have them all cannibalize each other,” Caldwell said.

She said BMW, for example, will show the new BMW X2 concept. It already has five SUVs.

LMC’s Schuster and Edmunds.com’s Caldwell said growth will come from all sizes and segments of crossovers, though Schuster said higher growth will come from smaller SUVs. He said small premium SUVs are expected to grow 88 percent from 2016 to 2018.

The new SUVs debuting this week are:

  • 2018 Chevrolet Traverse: The midsize SUV was completely redesigned and is due out in late summer or early fall. The new Traverse is lighter and fuel economy improves by 3 miles per gallon with the V-6 engine. Two new trim lines were added, the RS and High Country. A 2-liter, four-cylinder turbo powers the RS model. The Traverse is built at the Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant.
  • 2018 GMC Terrain: The  compact SUV gets new looks, more technology and three new turbocharged engines, including a turbodiesel. It sheds weight from the previous version. Analysts say it will be built in Mexico.
  • 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport: Debuting in the spring, the Rogue Sport is 12.1 inches shorter overall and its wheelbase 2.3 inches shorter than the compact Rogue. Nissan says the new entry – based off the global Nissan Qashquai product but refined for the U.S. – is targeted for couples without kids and singles and broadens its SUV lineup.
  • 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan:  At 185.2 inches in length, the new Tiguan SUV is 10.7 inches longer than the current version and has up to 57 percent more cargo capacity.
  • Audi Q8 large SUV concept: Audi says its new concept debuting Monday combines the spaciousness of a full-size SUV with the elegance of a coupe. 
  • Infiniti QX50 mid-size SUV concept Infiniti says its next-generation mid-size premium crossover debuting Monday will point to the future of its QX models.
  • BMW X2 Concept: BMW says its compact ConceptX2 combines the low-slung proportions of a coupe with the robust construction of a BMW X model.

For complete coverage of the Detroit auto show go to detroitnews.com/autos/auto-show