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Sport utility vehicles: an endangered species?

21 December 2011 Tom Libby

Sport utility vehicles, one of the core drivers of the new vehicle industry in the 1990s and seemingly ubiquitous on the American road at that time, are on the verge of making the "Endangered Species" list. There were 59 SUVs on the market as recently as 2006, accounting for 13.9% of all new vehicle registrations, but today there are just 35 sport utilities in dealer showrooms, and their share has plummeted to just 7.7%. This sales trend has occurred at the same time as the rise of crossovers which offer similar functionality with a softer ride and better fuel mileage. Today crossovers lay claim to 24.1% of the industry, up by almost 100% from six years ago. Some major brands such as Chevrolet no longer even offer a midsize or compact SUV, but rather rely on their crossovers in those size categories (Traverse and Equinox in the case of Chevrolet).

Some SUV segments have weathered the storm: non-luxury small SUVs' share of the industry now is the same as it was five years ago even though this segment's model count has eased from seven to five with the discontinuation of the S10 Blazer and Isuzu Rodeo. In the luxury market, the luxury midsize CUV segment's share has slipped just slightly to .2% of the market with the cancellation of the Lincoln Aviator and Saab 9-7X.

But other SUV categories have suffered substantially. The non-luxury midsize SUV segment, once home to the high-volume Explorer, TrailBlazer and Grand Cherokee, has lost more than half its share over the past five years and now accounts for just 3% of the market. Today there are just eight non-luxury midsize SUVs on the market, down more than half from five years ago. The TrailBlazer, Envoy, Rainier, Hummer H3, Borrego, Montero, Bravada, Rainier and XL7 have all bitten the dust. This category used to be a core component of most mainstream makes and their respective OEMs, but it has dwindled to the point where it is a mere sidelight.

To a lesser degree, non-luxury and luxury fullsize SUVs have also retreated. Non-luxury fullsize SUVs such as the Commander, Excursion, Aspen and TrailBlazer EXT have all gone away, and this category's share has declined by almost half to just 2.0%. In the large luxury SUV segment, the Hummer H2 has disappeared altogether and all the surviving models have suffered major volume declines.

The SUV emerged in the 80s and early 90s as a derivative of the body-on-frame midsize and fullsize pickups. If that basic architecture goes away, victim of the new CAFÉ requirements, then the SUV may also. But given the ongoing need for the towing capacity, durability and "toughness" provided to a much greater degree by the body-on-frame architecture than by the unibody, it is hard to see the former disappearing. In fact, the Polk Light Vehicle Forecast predicts the SUV will be around for years to come.

SUV Market Share

Posted by Tom Libby, PolkInsight Advisor, Polk (12.21.2011)



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