From off-road rock crawlers to green technology family haulers, automakers will introduce a host of crossovers and SUVs at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.
They are reacting to a massive shift in consumer preferences. Bigger, higher is in. Sedans are out.
SUVs and crossover models have become more popular in recent years because buyers like their higher ride height and improved driving dynamics. Consistently low fuel prices have made operating these vehicles more affordable for consumers.
“This is one of the heavier SUV shows that we’ve seen in a while,” said Stephanie Brinley, analyst for IHS Markit.
One of the highlights will be Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiling of the redesigned 2018 Jeep Wrangler, a favorite of off-road enthusiasts.
“Wrangler is going to be pretty close to star of the show,” Brinley said. “It’s a niche utility vehicle, it’s not the right product for everybody. But most people can appreciate the go-anywhere attitude.”
Green-minded buyers may prefer the BMW X7 plug-in concept and Mercedes-Benz GLC Fuel Cell, making their U.S. debuts. Compact crossovers like the Hyundai Kona and Lincoln MKC are aimed at small families, while large families will find the three-row Lexus RXL, Subaru Ascent and Infiniti QX80 more their size.
Passenger cars won’t completely be in the shadows. Brinley expects introductions of the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, BMW i8 Roadster and Mercedes-Benz CLS to make a splash. Fringe brand Aria will also debut an ultra-luxe mid-engine sports car, the FXE.
But utility vehicles will dominate the L.A. Auto Show.
Jeep has loaded its Wrangler with new capabilities, including a standard eight-speed automatic transmission and the first diesel and hybrid powertrains in the model’s history. The Subaru Ascent is the brand’s roomiest model yet with spacious seating for seven. A full slate of technology, entertainment and safety equipment is on display in the refreshed Lincoln MKC.
“There’s a huge variety.” Brinley said.
Demand Driving SUV Rush
Through the first 10 months of 2017, U.S. sales of light trucks, a category that includes pickups, crossovers and SUVs, have increased by 4.3 percent compared with the same period in 2016, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp. Sales of passenger sedans fell by 10.4 percent during the same period.
As of October, 62.5 percent of all vehicles sold in 2017 have been light trucks, up from 59.5 percent in 2016. Some analysts believe light trucks have permanently replaced compact cars and sedans as the go-to vehicle for American buyers.
The Toyota RAV4 demonstrates this trend. The compact crossover has become the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. that isn’t a pickup truck. The RAV4 trails only the Ford, Chevrolet and Ram full-size trucks this year. The Toyota Camry, a passenger sedan that was the perennial top-selling vehicle after the pickup trucks, has dropped to seventh place. Another crossover, the Nissan Rogue has surpassed the Camry, and the Honda CR-V may outsell it by year’s end.
Full Schedule Expected
Here are some of the vehicles to watch at the Los Angeles Auto Show:
- Jeep Wrangler: The toughest off-roader around returns, rebuilt from the ground up. Its expanded engine options — including a diesel and a hybrid — won’t detract from the Wrangler’s legendary capability. At the same time, the Wrangler takes a step into the modern era with upgraded comfort and materials, the latest UConnect infotainment system and LED lights at the front and rear.
- Subaru Ascent: With seating for seven, the Ascent brings Subaru into the family SUV segment that it hasn’t occupied since the brand discontinued its Tribeca in 2014. Rugged styling, first seen on the VIZIV-7 and Ascent concepts last year, is expected to align the Ascent with its popular Outback sibling. Subaru will likely offer a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, with a hybrid version possible in the future.
- Lincoln MKC: Ford will introduce a refreshed Lincoln MKC to compete in the luxury segment. The crossover has been redesigned to include a front fascia more akin to its Navigator sibling. Lincoln also included active safety technology, LED headlamps and the latest version of Ford’s SYNC infotainment. Two turbocharged four-cylinder engines are available to choose from, and the MKC has a maximum towing capacity of 3,000 pounds.
- Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL: After making its world debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, the Mercedes GLC F-CELL comes stateside for its North American debut. The all-electric crossover is powered by an electric motor that uses two energy sources: hydrogen fuel cells and a lithium-ion battery that can be charged using plug-in technology. It is the first such vehicle of its kind, according to Mercedes.
- GMC Sierra All Mountain Concept: General Motors has taken its GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali pickup truck and put it on tank tracks. The heavy-duty truck features Mattracks tracks that are 16 inches in width — the better to traverse snowy terrain in Vail, Colo., where the All Mountain will be displayed through winter. The concept will not be available to purchase. However its Thule racks, Kicker audio and Rigid lights speak to the demand for aftermarket trucks.
“Twenty years ago the midsized utility was the only game in town, and now we’re seeing it all across the board,” said Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for auto price forecasting firm ALG. “The concept of utility transcends all the different segments and price classes in the market today.”
In addition to the Hyundai Kona, the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Volvo XC40 compact crossovers will make their North American debuts in Los Angeles.
The Jaguar E-Pace crossover and BMW X7 plug-in concept will also come stateside for the first time.
Infiniti is expected to grab some attention. In addition to its QX80, the automaker will show its new Infiniti QX50 crossover, replacing the current QX70. The QX50 was teased recently with a small sketch and is expected to debut the company’s innovative “VC-Turbo” four-cylinder engine. The VC-Turbo uses variable compression technology to maximize both performance and efficiency.
Nissan could also show a new crossover model.
Toyota will unveil a new crossover concept called the FT-AC.
America’s appetite for crossovers has led to demand for large models, as well. Toyota will introduce its three-row Lexus RXL. Subaru has its Ascent. Both vehicles will be the only three-row SUV model offered by the brands.
Lexus was missing out on sales because its three-row GX adhered to an outdated model of utility, Lyman said. Its body-on-frame chassis, large V8 engine and hulking design will be replaced by the efficient, unibody RXL.
“Just like Lexus, Subaru didn’t have anything that was accommodating their growing families, and they were really straightforward about that,” he said. “The Ascent really is addressing all of those issues.”
The L.A. Auto Show will open to the public on Friday, Dec. 1, and close on Sunday, Dec. 10.