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Small crossovers outpace sedans for first time ever

30 April 2014 Tom Libby

Even though IHS Automotive divides the US automobile industry into over 30 segments, one segment - mainstream midsize cars - has been the most popular category for ten years in a row. The traditional four-door sedan provides the combination of size, functionality and range of features that appeals to the American family.

Yet, since the launch of the Forester, CR-V and RAV4 in the mid-90s, crossovers have continually gained traction with the US consumer. Crossovers have climbed the charts while minivans, station wagons, and frame-based SUVS have retreated.

We may now be at an inflection point in the US automotive industry - IHS Automotive data based on Polk new vehicle registrations indicate that in the first two months of 2014 US drivers purchased more small crossovers than any other type of vehicle, car or light truck. Non-luxury compact crossovers' share of the industry has jumped almost six share points in the past five years, including more than three points in the last year alone.

Share of US Industry for Five Largest Non-Luxury Segments

If the trend we have witnessed in the first two months of 2014 continues for the remainder of 2014, it would mark the first time in recent memory - if not ever - that a car segment did not lead the industry. It would also be a watershed moment for crossovers. (See March blog post regarding small crossover sales.)

The small crossover segment has been driven by exceptional performances by several models. For example:

  • An all-new, more expressive Nissan Rogue, now available with a third row, was launched last fall, and in the first two months of 2014 its registrations are up by more than half.
  • The Jeep Cherokee's two-month tally of 23,541 is up more than five-fold from that of the Liberty a year ago; the Cherokee is filled with leading-edge technology including a standard nine-speed transmission, an automatic all-wheel drive disconnect feature, and Park Assist which automatically parks the vehicle in a designated space, among others.
  • Deliveries of the redesigned Subaru Forester have jumped more than 75%, thanks to right-sizing (versus its predecessor) and the current appeal of Subaru in general.
  • The all-new Mazda CX-5 is Mazda's first true compact CUV, more appropriately sized than the larger 7 or 9; the CX-5 is up by more than half from a year ago.

Time will tell if this segment can continue to outpace all the others. Ironically, upcoming small crossovers may actually hurt the segment, as most of the products in the pipeline are so small that they will carve out their own distinct category below the existing compact CUV space. The Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Toyota B-SUV, among others, will be slotted below their corresponding compact cousins, and will most likely siphon some sales from the flourishing compact segment.

Tom Libby is manager, loyalty practice and industry analysis, IHS Automotive
em>Posted 30 April 2014


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