Sport utility vehicles are not gas-guzzling behemoths anymore.
That was especially apparent at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show where automakers revealed a wide array of crossovers and SUVs. They ranged in size from the Hyundai Kona subcompact to the Subaru Ascent with three rows. They run on electric, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell and even innovative gasoline powertrains.
“We’re seeing the utility market mature and become like the passenger car market where you’ve got sedans of every size,” said Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab automotive consulting firm. “They are the mainstream now.”
The rush to introduce light trucks — a category that includes pickups, crossovers and SUVs — mirrors consumer demand for large vehicles.
As of November, 62.7 percent of all vehicles sold in 2017 have been light trucks, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp. That’s an increase from 59.1 percent in 2016. Some analysts believe light trucks have permanently replaced compact cars as the preferred vehicle for U.S. customers.
In the Spotlight
Among the biggest debuts was the 2018 Jeep Wrangler. The off-road SUV added a new design, improved capability and fuel economy and a nine-speed automatic transmission. But the biggest change is under the hood.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, owner of the Jeep brand, said the 2018 Wrangler would feature the first diesel and hybrid powertrains in the vehicle’s history, including a plug-in hybrid version slated for 2020.
Infiniti debuted the all-new 2018 QX50 mid-size SUV with an innovative engine called the VC-Turbo. The engine is the first production-ready use of variable compression technology. It allows the turbocharged four-cylinder engine to optimize itself for performance or efficiency on the fly.
The QX50 will improve fuel economy by 27 percent compared with the outgoing model, according to Infiniti.
“Variable compression has been anticipated for so long,” Noble said. “The continuing pressure for efficiency is ultimately pushing new technology to fruition.”
Likewise, Mercedes-Benz will create the EQ brand to make the electric fuel cell GLC F-Cell mid-sized SUV available to fleets in 2019. Volkswagen will bring its electric I.D. Crozz compact SUV to market in 2020.
The Hyundai Kona and Nissan Kicks debuted in the tiny subcompact crossover segment. The slightly larger Crozz, Volvo XC40 and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross will go on sale as compact crossovers. Mid-sized crossovers at the show include the QX50, F-Cell and Lincoln Nautilus.
There were also three-row crossovers. These vehicles aim to draw buyers away from outdated gas-guzzling SUVs. Subaru introduced the all-new 2019 Ascent. Toyota lengthened its popular Lexus RX to create the three-row RX L.
“Customers want the package and the size that large SUVs offer without the drawbacks of mass, poor foot room and lousy dynamics,” Noble said.
Toyota in particular had missed out on sales to competitors like General Motors.
Through the first 11 months of 2017, Toyota sold more than 175,000 Lexus SUVs. In the same period, GM sold nearly 248,000 SUVs in its upscale GMC brand alone.
“Toyota finally moving with RX L is way overdue and that product should do really well,” Noble said.
If concept cars at the L.A. Auto Show are any indication, crossovers will continue their run.
The BMW X7 is not far behind the Ascent and RX L. The Concept X7 iPerformance first debuted at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in September and made its U.S. debut in Los Angeles. BMW will introduce the production version in 2018.
The X7 is a luxurious three-row large crossover with a plug-in hybrid powertrain and aggressive design. It will give the brand its only three-row vehicle. BMW sold more than 117,000 SUVs in the first 11 months of 2017, an increase of 1.8 percent compared with the same period last year. Sales of BMW cars have fallen 6.6 percent in that time.
Toyota tested the crossover waters again with its FT-AC concept. Aimed at off-roading adventurers, the FT-AC is a small SUV that could carry a hybrid powertrain, the automaker said. The olive green FT-AC has aggressive style, bulky fenders and a retractable bicycle rack.
When it came to wild concepts, two extreme pickup trucks took the cake.
The GMC Sierra 2500HD All Mountain replaces its wheels and tires for 16-inch-wide tank tracks. Its assortment of skid plates, light bars and bike racks equip the truck for snowy terrain. Two of the trucks will be on display at Vail ski resorts in Colorado through the winter.
Nissan took its Titan pickup truck into a galaxy far away. The Titan AT-M6 celebrates the upcoming release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” It features a 12-inch lift and custom body wrap to channel the massive walker vehicles. Cannons are mounted to the bed and front bumper.
The 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show is open through Dec. 10.