The Crossover reigns supreme!

These days, three times as many crossovers are sold as SUVs and minivans combined. Even SUVs in their Clintonian fin-de-siècle glory days cannot touch the growth of the crossover. Just take in these numbers.

Last year, roughly speaking, two crossovers were purchased for every three cars. It’s tough to compare apples to apples, but in April, IHS Automotive analyst Tom Libby noted that small crossovers were the single best selling segment of any type of vehicle, including midsize sedans, which are the staple crop of the automotive industry.

“If the trend we have witnessed in the first two months of 2014 continues for the remainder of 2014,” Libby wrote, “it would mark the first time in recent memory—if not ever—that a car segment did not lead the industry.”

Now halfway through the year, “it seems like that might be case,” Libby’s colleague Brinley said, though obviously there’s still some time left in the year.

In comparison with the rise of Android, say, or WhatsApp, this change may not look impressive. But this is an industry that measures change in decades, that requires new factories to build different kinds of cars, and that has been selling something that someone born in 1890 could understand.

In other words, in the car business, the crossover is what monumental, generational change looks like.

It’s not often that I read about some big thing that has taken over the market that I actually got a couple of years ago, but we got our Forester in 2011. My Escort was running out of steam. In addition to wanting something with AWD, we wanted something that worked reliably in cold weather, which the Escort didn’t and which was a problem in Arapaho.. We were also looking towards having kids and an Escort was a two-door.

The crossover was almost perfect for our short-term needs. In fact, I looked at the crossovers and the full-size sedans and really struggled to think of a good reason to get the latter. The price was competitive and the mileage was similar.

After much investigation and deliberation, we went with the Subaru Forester. Subaru, it turns out, is really banking it on the crossover revolution:

When minivans were popular, Subaru built crossovers. When SUVs were popular, Subaru built crossovers. Now, finally, crossovers are popular. And so are Subarus. {…}

Subarus are not as quirky as they once were, but when I recently climbed behind the wheel of a 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid, the immediate impression was of familiarity – this little wagon was a kindred spirit to the ’82 that I learned to drive on. Same slightly butch ride height, same raspy four-cylinder gurgle, same invincibility in the snow. And I did have occasion to try it in the snow, as I found myself driving the Crosstrek during a rare North Carolina blizzard.

Notably, The Atlantic’s article mentions how similar all of the crossovers have become but Subarus resist that trend somewhat. Had we lived in a different part of the country, I would have more seriously considered a Mitsubishi Outlander, which also looks a bit different. But Mitsubishi lacked dealerships in Arapaho and Subarus are common. Sufficiently so to be a social marker next to the also-popular Jeeps.

The environmental repercussions are mixed. A lot of the market-gain from crossovers has come at the expense of vans and SUVs, which is a gain. But cars’ share of the market has also been declining, and that may not be such a good thing.

What’s been most helpful to us has been the extra cargo space. Sedans have themselves become much better with the storage space in recent times, but having the open space with the back seats down has been priceless.

In a way it’s frustrating, of course, because most of the time we would be perfectly fine with my wife’s sedan that gets better mileage. It could be advantageous to both us and the environment to have a “cargo and family trips” vehicle and two sedans for the rest of our driving. Unfortunately, our system of auto insurance penalizes such things, and so we end up with more vehicle than we need most of the time.

Our next vehicle will probably be a larger one, exacerbating the issue. The ironic thing is that as the appeal of the crossover becomes wider, I have been wondering if we should have gone straight to the larger vehicle. When child #2 comes (hopefully sometime next year), two parents and two kids with two car seats and a dog will be kind of tight.


Category: Road

About the Author


2 Responses to Crossover America

  1. It’s interesting that you wrote up this post, and I just came back from Europe where small CUV have started to make inroads into the markets there, and arguably to the chagrin of some American car enthusiasts who would kill for Euro wagons. In the third world, small CUVs are supposedly also popular there, although some would argue that’s partially for practical reasons.

    Regardless, some have argued that the combination of an aging population that’s looking for a vehicle with easier entrance and egress compared to lower cars or taller SUVs, combined with a desire to sit higher, and the cargo capabilities have pushed the market toward CUVs. I have a friend who would never be in the market for an SUV considering buying a CUV when he finalizes the purchase of a home as he’s thinking of the stuff that he has to buy for Home Depot runs. A generation ago, that type of trip would have been handled around here with a sedan or a station wagon or a minivan* with stuff strapped down to the roof if needed.

    Of course, I’m biased because I’m a holdout hatchback owner. Even though Mazda can make a CUV that handles better than some sedans, I’d still rather have the superior handling of my hatchback over an SUV. Mind you, the market isn’t particularly generous to people like me.

    *Pickup trucks were never that popular because they were banned until the mid-90s or so from our parkways.

    Sedans have themselves become much better with the storage space in recent times

    In contrast, I’ve heard of some enthusiasts complain about how truck design has made it far more difficult to put anything of real size into a modern trunk with narrow openings. Of course, one could argue that has played a role in pushing more people into crossovers.

    When child #2 comes (hopefully sometime next year), two parents and two kids with two car seats and a dog will be kind of tight.

    Pfft, the Forester isn’t that small. I managed to lug around my niece and nephew in the back of a small Saturn for years. Your kids won’t be that big for another ten years…

  2. trumwill says:

    The CUV’s are a lot easier on my knees, in terms of getting in and out. I’ve kept that in mind for when I get older.

    In contrast, I’ve heard of some enthusiasts complain about how truck design has made it far more difficult to put anything of real size into a modern trunk with narrow openings. Of course, one could argue that has played a role in pushing more people into crossovers.

    Really? That I haven’t noticed. I just know that the Ford Focus seems to be able to, in practice, swallow up about twice as much as the Escorts could.

    Your kids won’t be that big for another ten years…

    It’s not the size of the kid, it’s the size of the seat we’re legally required to put the kid in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.