Small crossover sales explode in February

07 Mar 2014 Tom Libby

February U.S. car sales were driven in part by the appeal of mainstream compact crossovers. These vehicles offer the ideal combination of value for the money, good fuel economy, car-like driving characteristics, and SUV-like functionality. Midsize as well as sub-compact crossovers offer some of these advantages but not all of them. Compact crossover sales in February drove industry results at the segment, model and make levels.

At the segment level, the February results were extraordinary. Non-luxury compact crossovers captured 14.8% of all February sales, up from 11.7% a year ago and 13.8% for all of 2013. Non-luxury compact CUV deliveries jumped 27% from last February, while the industry was flat. Small mainstream crossovers are now the third largest category in the industry among IHS's 30+ segments, trailing only non-luxury midsize cars and non-luxury compact cars, and small crossovers are not that far behind compact cars.

Among the 18 small mainstream crossovers now on the market, 15 enjoyed year-over-year sales gains in February, and several of the winners played a major role in their respective brands' February successes. Sales of the all-new Jeep Cherokee were close to 12,000, up more than seven-fold from that of its predecessor, the Liberty, a year ago, and the Cherokee propelled the Jeep make to a 47% year-over-year gain, the largest in the industry. Chrysler was the only "domestic" automaker to register a gain in February. Remarkably, every other Jeep model also improved in February. A lack of cannibalization by a strong new model such as the Cherokee is rare.

Like the Cherokee, the Nissan Rogue had a terrific month, and pulled its brand along with it. The redesigned Rogue, now available with a third row of seats and more distinctive styling, had a 72% sales gain in February, and the Nissan Division climbed 17%. In this case, though, there was some cannibalization, as both the Murano and Pathfinder slipped (though the Murano's decline was negligible). Nissan's corporate U.S. share jumped by almost a point and a half in February to 9.7%, and, in a rare occurrence, the company out-sold American Honda.

There were similar results for the Buick Encore (up 93%) and the Buick Division (up 19% while the other three GM makes were all down) as well as for the Subaru Forester (up 95%) and Subaru itself (up 24% with a half-point share gain). Amazingly, not only did the Subaru XV Crosstrek not suffer in the wake of the Forester's gains, the XV climbed 69% itself in February. These two Subaru models are a potent combination in the small crossover category, and help to explain Subaru's ongoing success in the U.S.

Some compact crossovers' successes in February pulled their respective makes up from what would have been dismal monthly results. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was up 43%, while every other Mitsubishi model that was also on the market a year ago dropped. Similarly, the Mazda CX-5 was up 72%, in contrast to the decline of all other Mazda models except the redesigned 6. Because of the appeal of these models, Mitsubishi and Mazda February results were only marginally down from a year ago.

Ironically, the segment sales leader for the month and year-to-date, the Ford Escape, suffered a 4% sales decline in February, but it was being compared with a strong year-ago total of 24,000+ units. One of the other three models retreating in February was the Tiguan, which is nearing the end of its life cycle. Its February deliveries of only 2,019 were the fewest in the segment and help to explain Volkswagen's recent struggles in the U.S. market.

It is unlikely the segment can continue to grow at the same pace in the next few years. All the mainstream makes are now in the segment, and before the end of 2013 we will see sub-compact crossovers hitting the market from mainstream makes such as Honda. Although these smaller vehicles will not offer the ideal combination of car and SUV features mentioned above, it is almost inevitable that their sales will eat into the compact category to some degree.

Non-Luxury Compact Crossover New Sales

Feb. 14Feb. 13Chg. %
Jeep Cherokee 11,7950NA
Subaru Forester10,7735,52994.8%
Buick Encore3,0781,59792.7%
Nissan Rogue17,1979,96472.6%
Mazda CX-59,3535,45171.6%
Subaru XV Crosstrek5,4893,25868.5%
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport2,3481,64442.8%
Toyota RAV416,45113,32923.4%
Jeep Compass4,3543,77615.3%
Chevrolet Captiva Sport4,4523,86715.1%
Hyundai Tucson 3,9563,44414.9%
Kia Sportage2,6692,33414.4%
Dodge Journey7,9637,5305.8%
Chevrolet Equinox21,58720,6494.5%
Honda CR-V20,75920,6680.4%
Ford Escape23,14524,110-4.0%
GMC Terrain9,2979,802-5.2%
Volkswagen Tiguan2,0192,533-20.3%
All models176,685139,48526.7%
Compact CUV share14.8%11.7%

Source: Autodata

Tom Libby is manager, loyalty practice and industry analysis, IHS Automotive
Posted on March 7, 2014

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