Crossovers, watch your back.
American drivers always have and always will love SUVs and trucks. No matter how high gas prices rise we will forever find an excuse to drive these mammoth vehicles that can bear any burden and guzzle ungodly amounts of fuel. However, in recent years there has been a downsizing of sorts in these two markets. Smaller SUVs (crossovers/CUVs/whatever you call them) are just as popular—if not more so—than massive three-row family haulers.
Mid-size trucks have always been popular in the US but the market has seen renewed interest after heavyweights like Ford and Dodge thought it was dead. The auto industry is all about the next big thing, whether it’s technology, models or classes. I believe the next big thing will be sport utility trucks (SUTs). Now SUTs are nothing new. Does anyone remember the Chevrolet Avalanche or the Explorer Sport Trac from just a few years ago? The Avalanche sold pretty well and was in production for 12 years. The Explorer Sport Trac surprisingly had a production run of 10 years! And then there was the Hummer H2 and its baby bed. Saying SUTs are the next big thing isn’t the boldest proclamation as these vehicles have had recent success in the US.
However, the new fleet of SUTs that’s destined to become the next big thing in the auto industry differs from the Avalanche and Sport Trac in many ways. For starters, they skew more towards the SUV side of things than the truck side. The Hyundai Santa Cruz (and its likely Kia counterpart) is front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive as an option. The new Honda Ridegline, which is a bit more truck-like, is the same. All of these trucks have a unibody design instead of a pickup's more traditional body-on-frame design. This new fleet of SUTs isn’t designed to be beaten to hell on back roads or construction sites but to be sip gas while offering measured utility.
If SUTs are just less capable trucks and smaller SUVs then how the hell are they supposed to be the industry’s next big thing? Well, it’s simple really: People love SUVs and mid-size trucks so give them both in one package. Of course there’s more to it than that. People may very well be put off by the odd look of the Santa Cruz and by the Ridgeline’s less than manly in-bed trunk. However, the compact size, utility and good mpg rating may help offset those (and other) concerns. From a business perspective, automakers could see SUTs as a great cash grab. As it stands now car companies can’t stop making SUVs and crossovers. Why not squeeze more money out of existing platforms like Hyundai is probably going to do with the Tucson?
Just lop off the top at the back and have marketing come up with a cool new name. Bam, instant cash. Yes, this whole argument of mine is grossly simplified but really, what other segment can you see that’s primed for explosive growth? The SUT segment is basically nonexistent at this point but that seems likely to change sooner than later. Remember where you heard it first.