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It's an unprecedented roller coaster genre that is brushing off economic downturns, rising fuel prices and threats of high interest rates. But be aware what you're buying because the question here isn't about the genre's popularity, but the definition of an SUV.
For more than buying a socially acceptable, family focused, versatile and - in some cases - even chic compliment to a suburban concrete driveway that wears a trendy acronym, we're buying station wagons.
My father had a station wagon as did many of my friends in the 1970s and 1980s. The only way they became trendy was to occy-strap a surfboard to the roof. Or hang it out the retracted tailgate window.
But they're not trendy anymore and that's why manufacturers have decided to market them as SUVs. It's been 40 years since Subaru's L-Series wagon powered all four wheels onto the Australian market, arguably the first snowball in what has become an SUV avalanche. That was a station wagon. Today, its replacement is the Forester which is an SUV.
Roy Morgan communications director Norman Morris, in analysing one of his company's recent reports on new-car buyer intentions, notes that sales of SUVs is continuing to strengthen at the expense of the medium-sized, large car and sports car segments.
"SUVs are seen as flexible and versatile rivals to traditional sedans,'' Mr Morris said. "Plus, there's so many models for the buyer to choose. "In relative terms, cars are now very cheap. As long as this continues, and interest rates remain low, we see new cars as being a very popular choice over the next four years at least.''
In the three months to April 1, SUV sales as a whole rose 23.4 per cent as the Australian passenger-car segment barely moved with a rise of 0.4 per cent. Little wonder that most carmakers have an entrant in the SUV arena and, showing that the craze is unlikely to dim, even Lamborghini and Bentley have announced they will make an SUV.
Many SUV's have two-wheel drive, so destroying whatever off-road potential the bodyshape may indicate. More proof that if you own an SUV, you're really just like your father (or grandfather) when it comes to vehicle choice is the fact that car makers have used SUVs to replace their station wagon lineup.
Ford now has the Territory and has axed its Falcon wagon; Toyota's Camry wagon has been replaced with the Kluger and RAV4; Mitsubishi's Magna wagon is now the Outlander and so on. Cleverly, car makers find that people want all the macho, adventurous romance that are promised by the physical presence - and big wheels - of an SUV, without any of the costs.
Buyers want to sit up high so see over all the other traffic, and it's only after leaving the showroom that they become aware that almost 50 per cent of the other traffic is the same height. The more recent crop of SUVs have become a bit lower to the ground as buyers complain about the previous high-risers having an uncomfortable bodyroll through corners. Engines have become smaller to combat high fuel use.
The result is the small-SUV segment that rocketed 48 per cent this year compared with the same three-month period in 2011. It was bolstered by newcomers such as the Skoda Yeti, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Compass and Subaru XV. It was good news in the medium-SUV sector which rose 20.3 per cent with 25,895 sales in the three months to April 1, pushed by Mazda's outgoing CX-7 sell-off and incoming CX-5.
There was also renewed interest in the Holden Captiva 5 (up 190.4 per cent), Kia Sportage (up 49.2%), Land Rover Defender (up 118.8%), Nissan X-Trail (up 66.8%), Mitsubishi ASX (up 57.8%) and the CX-5 which has sold 1509 units in a bit over four weeks.
Mazda predicts that its new CX-5 - which is says should settle at about 1000 sales a month - will divide buyers with its front-wheel drive models grabbing 35 per cent of the share and all-wheel drive models taking the balance of 65 per cent.
Mazda's project engineer for the CX-5 SUV - and before that, the bigger CX-9 wagon - says SUVs are here to stay. "There may be a change to a cross-over style that isn't so high, but SUVs are here for a long while yet,'' Hideaki Tanaka said.
|TOP TEN BRANDS||MARCH 2012||(YTD 2012)|
|TOP 20 VEHICLES||MARCH 2012||(YTD 2012)|
|SEGMENT||MARCH 2012||(YTD 2012)|
|Upper Large||1222||(573 -29.6%)|
|People Movers||940||(2783 3.2%)|
|Upper Large||1562||(4175 9%)|
|Light Commercial||16,543||(40,904 -8.0%)|
|Heavy Commercial||2549||(6549 13.7%)|
|Total Market||97,616||(260,122 4.7%)|