The SUV isn’t dead yet
The Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) has become the most popular sort of vehicle in the world. Nevertheless, the criticism is increasing as well: too big, too heavy, too polluting, too intimidating, too… What to think about this split?
Until now, the market stays predominantly insensitive to these critics. The SUV represented one fifth (20,9%) of the market in Europe in 2016. Three years later, it was already 38,2%.
In China, the SUV penetration into the market is more than 40%, and in the US it is even flirting with 50%. It’s obvious that the ‘SUV rage’ isn’t declining yet, on the contrary. So, what are the mechanisms and emotions behind this?
Why so popular?
There are several reasons why an SUV has become so popular. First of all, the SUV, originating from the real off-road vehicles like the legendary Jeep or Land Rover, promises adventure and freedom (to go where you want).
Secondly, it oozes confidence, robustness, and safety. It offers space, comfort, and easy access. It gives its user a feeling of being on top of things, sitting higher, having a better overview, a feeling of being in charge.
A woman’s car?
Although the SUV is often described with ‘male’ characteristics, it’s very much liked by a female clientele. Many women, often responsible for transporting the children, have swopped the MPV (multiple purpose vehicle) or mono volume for an SUV lately.
They find their SUV almost as practical and functional but prefer its aesthetics, better image, feeling of being part of the ‘real world’, and higher status. When asked, women like the comfort, high seating, good visibility, and safety feeling.
There may be even a feminist cord to be struck. A woman driving a big SUV proves that she’s equal to a man, that she hasn’t always to drive a Mini or a Fiat 500. In some circumstances, the SUV has become an instrument of ‘girl power’.
Why so criticized?
More and more, the SUV also attracts (justified) criticism. But here, you have to make a difference between the big SUV and the more recent, much smaller SUV or new evolutions like the cross-over.
In the beginning, the big SUV was derived from the above-mentioned off-roaders and ‘civilized’ to drive mainly on normal roads. Nevertheless, it kept its promise to go everywhere with its big wheels, its high stature, its powerful engine, and its four-wheel-drive.
The more recent, compact SUV is often derived from a hatchback or sedan, promising this idea of freedom and adventure in a more urban area, now called the ‘urban jungle’ by the marketeers.
An SUV, being a compromise of sorts, can, therefore, be more easily criticized. It can do many things, but not so good as the cars it’s inspired by. First of all, it’s more dangerous for other road users when accidents occur.
It’s also not as spacious as an estate, it doesn’t have the road-holding of a sedan (higher center of gravity), it’s often more expensive than the car it’s derived from. Moreover, it’s heavier and less aerodynamic, so it has a higher fuel consumption. So, why is it so popular?
Here to stay
Apart from the emotional aspects we’ve already mentioned, there are also other reasons why the SUV is here to stay. First of all, the manufacturers love it: they can ask more money for it and usually sell more options.
Secondly, its versatility is a big asset. One of the newest trends we see in mature (or saturated) markets like Europe or the US is that households are looking for other mobility solutions and get rid of the second car. The car they retain will often be an SUV.
The criticism of being far too heavy or bulky is especially true for the massive SUVs, but they only represent one-tenth of the market now. The most popular (compact and/or urban) SUVs are cars like a Renault Captur, Peugeot 3008, or Nissan Qashqai, not the big behemoths green activists are scratching their disapproval on.
Their form also offers slightly more possibilities (of space) for the manufacturers to integrate electric drivetrains may also assure their further existence. They’re moved electrically makes one of the biggest (green) arguments against them almost obsolete.