Sport-utility vehicles and crossovers have never been more popular.
Automakers have sold almost 5.5 million so far this year, creating the biggest segment across the board and accounting for 38 percent of all U.S. sales.
This year the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show was a microcosm of American roads with back-to-back new model introductions of SUVs and crossovers – technically classified by the industry as light trucks – of almost every flavor and size.
Through the first 10 months of this year, automakers reported U.S. sales of sport-utility vehicles and crossovers have risen 6.4 percent compared with the same period last year. This segment is continuing to grow despite a flat overall auto market.
The significant investment in the popular segment is automakers’ reaction to changing consumer preference.
“Consumers like the seating position, they feel safe and secure and they like the way these vehicles drive like cars,” said Alan Batey, president of General Motors’ North American operations.
Many of the consumers purchasing the smaller crossover models are first time buyers who like the extra space and utility SUVs provide, Batey said.
By the auto show’s count, automakers introduced 17 new crossovers and SUVs this week with a range of attributes intended to attract a wide array of consumers.
Ford unveiled a sub-compact SUV, the U.S. version of its EcoSport. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Italian automaker’s first SUV, featured a sportier design. Jaguar’s I-PACE, an electric crossover concept the British nameplate intends to have on the road in 2018, boldly entered the green market. Volkswagen upsized with its seven-seat Atlas, the largest vehicle the German automaker has offered in the U.S. market. And, Mazda unveiled a redesigned version of its best-selling CX-5 SUV, which will be the first vehicle the brand will offer in the U.S. with a diesel engine option.
Continued low gasoline prices, increased utility, including roomier interiors, and better fuel efficiency are pulling consumers out of passenger sedans.
Automakers are actually listening to consumers, said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific Inc., an industry consulting firm.
“Sedans are still extremely important,” Sullivan said, “but I think that automakers are planning for SUVs to become their best-sellers.”
Sullivan said consumers can expect to see more innovation in storage options and flexible seating designs in crossovers and SUVs, as automakers seek to differentiate their offerings in what is becoming a crowded marketplace.
Manufacturers have also responded by evolving each generation of vehicle to improve drive quality, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit.
“The dynamics gets better, the interior packaging gets better,” Brinley said. “SUVs are coming close enough to a sedan in terms of fuel economy that consumers are willing to pay the premium over sedans.”
Here are some the new vehicles:
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo unveiled its first SUV and third vehicle for the U.S. market. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio has a standard 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine with 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio will come with a 505-horsepower engine capable of accelerating from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and topping out at 177 mph.
Alfa Romeo designed the Stelvio to bring the driving feel of a two-seater to the SUV market, said Reid Bigland the head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands.
The sub-compact Ford EcoSport SUV is offered with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine or a 2.0-liter engine with all-wheel drive. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The EcoSport fits into the growing SUV lifestyle and is the smallest SUV in Ford’s lineup, said Changel Lenard, executive director of Ford’s U.S. Marketing. The EcoSport joins Ford’s diverse lineup of SUVs, which includes the Edge, Escape, Flex, Explorer and Expedition SUVs.
Jaguar I-Pace Concept
Jaguar’s I-Pace concept previews a production variant expected to hit the roads in 2018. The all-electric I-Pace accelerates from zero to 60 in around four seconds, and will be able to travel 310 miles on a single charge and put out approximately 394 horsepower from the electric motors in the front and rear.
It also will drive like a supercar with zero lag response from the electric motors and torque delivery comparable to the internal combustion engine, said Ian Hoban, Jaguar vehicle line director. The interior features British styling and finishes, along with a panoramic glass roof, he said.
Mazda unveiled a redesigned version of its best-selling CX-5 SUV that will also offer a diesel option, the first-ever for the brand in the U.S. The refreshed crossover comes with an all-new Crystal Soul Red paint color, sleeker design and a more refined interior.
The Mazda CX-5 compact SUV accounts for 25 percent of Mazda’s annual sales, selling a total of 1.4 million units in 120 different countries.
Mini introduced its biggest Countryman yet, considered a compact crossover SUV by the manufacturer. It offers more interior space and Mini’s go-kart style driving dynamics.
The new Countryman will also be available with a 3-cylinder TwinPower Turbo gasoline engine or an electric hybrid system. The Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 hybrid system will have a total output of 221 horsepower.
Mitsubishi eX Concept
Mitsubishi also unveiled the eX Concept compact electric SUV. It has a 100 percent electric-powered drivetrain, all-wheel drive control and partial automated driving. The eX Concept also has an internal storage battery that can power home or outdoor electronics.
While the eX Concept won’t officially become a production vehicle, Mitsubishi Motors is planning a future full of crossovers and electric vehicles, said Don Swearingen, chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America.
Nissan Rogue SV: Rogue One Edition
Nissan capitalized on the Star Wars hype around the upcoming Rogue One movie with its Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition vehicle. The Rogue is Nissan’s top-selling model in its lineup. For 2017, the limited-edition version of the popular SUV has an updated exterior, new interior embellishments and forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
The Rogue One Special Edition is an optional package added onto the Nissan SV trim level.
Subaru VIZIV-7 Concept
Subaru debuted the VIZIV-7 concept, a three-row, full-size SUV, that the carmaker plans to bring to market in early 2018. The front-end features boomerang-style headlights and angular fog lights, muscular looking wheel arches and a large footprint.
Consumer demand for a three-row, full-size vehicle drove Subaru to create the VIZIV-7 concept and upcoming lineup, said Takeshi Tachimori, corporate executive vice president of Fuji Heavy Industries, LTD.
What started as a Scion concept at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show has turned into a production vehicle for Toyota this year. Already on sale in Europe, the 2018 Toyota C-HR – or, Coupe High-Rider – has a curvy body with angular details, bolstered bucket seats and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
A diehard racer at heart, Deputy Chief Engineer Hiro Koba for Toyota ensured that the sportiness impressed as much as the looks.
Volkswagen revealed the Atlas in October 2016 and is biggest SUV in the brand’s lineup.
The new full-size SUV features VW’s classic styling, third-row seating with capacity for seven passengers and up to 96.8 cubic feet of potential cargo capacity. Technology includes VW’s Car-Net infotainment system, a 12-speaker Fender audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink connective technologies. There are two choices of gasoline engines. The standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder TSI engine puts out 238 horsep