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Are Box-Shaped SUVs The Next Big Industry Trend?

Opinion / Comments

Could the upcoming baby Ford Bronco and Mercedes GLB be just the start?

Like any industry, automakers are constantly studying what could be the next 'big thing.' Right now, for example, Ford believes traditional cars like the Focus and Fusion have become boring to Americans who clearly prefer SUV crossovers. Sales figures don't lie.

Car sales are down while crossover and truck sales are up. And because gasoline is cheap again (for now), SUV crossovers of all sizes are experiencing phenomenal sales. Using Ford as an example again, it previously couldn't build new Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators fast enough to satisfy demand until an additional work shift was added.

SUVs and crossovers are in and cars and hatchbacks are on their way out. But within the SUV/crossover segment, there are also sub-segments, and we're not referring to size. No, we mean body style and general attitude.

A Chevrolet Equinox and Jeep Cherokee, though both car-based, have starkly different attitudes, and it looks like it's possible to break this down even further.

While not everyone wants a rugged-looking and thirsty SUV, Ford and Mercedes must have collated consumer data indicating that there's a demand for rugged-looking and efficient crossovers. Conveniently enough, there's a baby Bronco and baby G-Class on the way. This past week we caught our first glimpse of this so far unnamed baby Ford Bronco which will share a platform with the next generation Focus that won't be coming to the US.

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It's simply one more way Ford can utilize this global platform to make money. The reborn Bronco, by contrast, will ride on the same platform underpinning the Ranger pickup truck. But it's the Bronco's rugged and retro looks that'll be the most appealing to a majority of potential buyers. Ford doesn't want them to come walking into one of its dealerships interested in buying a Bronco only to be turned away by its SUV nature.

The baby Bronco, which could also be the start of a Bronco sub-brand of even more vehicles, will be there to stop them from going home empty-handed. Same formula goes for the also upcoming Mercedes GLB. Although it may resemble a box on wheels like the beloved G Wagon, it's A-Class underpinnings tell a different story.

Like the Baby Bronco, the GLB will be front-wheel-drive-based with optional all-wheel-drive. Tough from the outside, but a softie underneath with just enough off-road capabilities for a weekend camping trip to the local metro park. In fact, Jeep already concluded this sub-crossover segment is successful with the Renegade, and we all know the Renegade isn't a true body-on-frame SUV. Like the Cherokee, it's based on a Fiat platform. Most buyers either aren't aware of this or just don't care. The Renegade just looks cool, and cool sells. Ford and Mercedes are banking on that as well, and don't be surprised to see other automakers follow suit.

For example, what about a reborn Chevy K5 Blazer riding on the Cruze's platform? Perhaps a new Toyota FJ40 that's really not much more than a re-bodied RAV4? It's all totally possible and it's guaranteed automakers will be closely watching the status of the baby Bronco and GLB once they go on sale.

Like the Renegade, these 'fake' SUVs are counting on their boxy, retro styling to expand the crossover market even further. And you know what, they have a solid chance of succeeding.