Life After Crossovers – PSA Dares to Dream

Everyone’s crazy about crossovers these days. Well okay, maybe not everyone…

Peugeot CEO, Maxime Picat. Image:lepoint.fr
Peugeot CEO, Maxime Picat. Image:lepoint.fr

With the motor industry rapidly coalescing towards crossovers and SUV’s, it’s tempting to view this not so much as a trend but more a new ascendancy. Furthermore, it’s also increasingly difficult to envisage it being a fleeting one. So for those amongst us who don’t relish a world filled with the confounded things, even a lone voice of dissent from within the automotive mainstream sounds a thrillingly heretical note.

I probably should preface this by saying I have nothing in principle against crossovers. Some of them, like Mazda’s CX-3 or Skoda’s Yeti are attractive and nicely executed and those I quite like. Others I view as necessary evils – that’s you, Jaguar F-Pace and some are, well, lets just say, just a bit Bentayga. What I do have a problem with is ubiquity. Having said that, I recognise crossovers answer a demand. People like cars to exude social markers they consider flattering, and crossover SUV’s appear to provide this, even though I fail to see the appeal myself largely because they offer something I neither need nor want.

If the the SUV/CUV is not quite ubiquitous, it’s well on its way, and given the format is ‘so hot right now’ it’s inevitable that everyone is jumping on the catwalk. Last year the combined S/CUV sectors accounted for around 23% of total European car sales and almost 35% in the US – analysts suggesting this could rise to 50% by 2020 should the current upward trend continue unchecked. That’s half the market in case you hadn’t noticed and I don’t know about you, but I find that vista a somewhat disturbing one.

But speaking to Autocar earlier this month, Peugeot CEO, Maxime Picat challenged the status quo, suggesting his company is looking further ahead to a post-SUV landscape. Picat’s assertion stems from two factors. First, his view that these vehicles will struggle to maintain their appeal as the industry is forced to vastly improve emissions and fuel efficiency. Secondly, he predicts that alternative bodystyles within the CUV segment simply will not sell in the volumes required. Needless to say, a third could be cynically appended – since PSA and especially Peugeot themselves are clearly massively under-represented in the format, perhaps it suits his purposes to talk down their prospects.

Is this what Maxime has in mind? 2015's Quartz concept. Image: boldride
Is this what Maxime has in mind? 2015’s Quartz concept. Image: boldride

This isn’t to say there won’t be Peugeot CUV’s of course. Right now, Picat would be mad not to join the bandwagon and the forthcoming 3008 and 5008 models will both almost certainly line up with wider industry norms. Nevertheless the prospect of PSA actively seeking a third way rather than just marching in step with everyone else is, for those of us who despair at this rush to homogeneity, a welcome change in the narrative.

Questions remain. Picat alludes to customers who don’t want an S/CUV, but yet find saloons and hatchbacks boring, which raises the matter of what realistic alternatives are open to Peugeot stylists or indeed the design teams of their rivals, who undoubtedly have also been tasked with coming up with the next big thing? Perhaps the distinctions between bodystyles will simply have to blur further. Or will the twin hammer blows of imposed emissions regulation and autonomy render such crystal ball-gazing moot? Either way, even if Picat is correct, the concept of a post-crossover landscape isn’t necessarily going to mean more customer choice. In fact, it might even mean less.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

30 thoughts on “Life After Crossovers – PSA Dares to Dream”

  1. I sincerely hope the current fad for CUV/SUVs passes quickly. It should be quite easy for car makers to sell post-crossover vehicles by simply pointing out their obvious advantages – better aerodynamics, lower weight, better handling, better styling and overall fewer compromises. This happened in the 60’s as cars became lower and more dynamic so it could happen again. It’ll require a certain emporer has no clothes type of mass realization.

    1. Agree entirely. It angers me that, with so many pressures facing the globe from resource depletion, global warming and pollution, people wilfully choose cars that are worse in every respect than an equivalent hatchback or estate.

      The Jaguar F Pace reviews have been interesting. I understood Jaguar’s decision to make it, of course – they could probably sell more of them, more profitably, than an XE or XF estate. Yet, between the lines, the reviews all hint at notable dynamic compromises, mostly caused by the car’s increased weight. An XF estate would be more satisfying to drive and more efficient.

    2. Nobody seems to care about weight or dynamic compromises though. They just want a lounge on wheels daubed with enough styling signifiers to keep them up with the Joneses.

  2. Another factor is that the CUV market will soon reach mass saturation. The number of entrants to the CUV market cannot rise in line with the total number of buyers wanting them, leading to a greater degree of cross-shopping and cannibalisation. The result will inevitably be reduced profit margins as manufacturers start duking it out for customer attention. Any manufacturer not in the CUV game a couple of years ago has likely left it too late to make a significant impact, something I hazard Peugeot have already surmised.

  3. Sounds like a load of excuses to me … I’m not a big fan of this genre, but it seems to me like the management of any manufacturer underweight in this space right now could be accused of negligence by its shareholders. I just think there are so many signs that PSA Groupe lacks the required means to invest in enough new product to compete right now. I read that the incoming Citroen C3 is still based on the current version’ platform (which itself was based on the Mk1). That means that the new platforms being developed with Dongfeng are still not in play (2018 – so I have read). I also think that trying to furnish three separate brands which want separate visual identities, and three sets of marketing costs to build those brands is overly ambitious and could yet overstretch the company. I know recent financial results looked good – but I’m not convinced those are sustainable improvements.

  4. Ride height it what this genre is about, specifically H-point. It serves older people who find it easy to get into the car and everyone likes to be a bit higher than everyone else. In tightly controlled driving conditions with speed limits, enforcement and traffic, the height matters more than the capacity of the car to handle at speed. The CUV is really a hatchback optimised for a new height preference. I don´t think this niche will go away.

    1. Well, to an extent it is. It is easy to see, for example, a Mazda CX3 as a Mazda 3 for people who’s limbs aren’t as flexible as they once were. Similarly, I can absolutely see how wrestling a toddler into a Quashqai can be easier than into a hatchback (although interestingly, once a kid is old enough to shrug off parental help with getting into their seat – anytime from three upwards, judging by mine – taller cars are harder work).

      But the SUV is mainly driven by image. People like the image they project, and buy into that.

      Wanting to be higher than everyone else is understandable, but clearly stupid. Now everyone’s got taller cars, I need an even taller car to see over them. Where does it end?

    2. Agreed that ride height is significant but how does that account for pumped up, macho, faux offroader styling? Slightly sub CUV hatchbacks like my Chrysler Delta have a reasonably high seating position which my elderly and infirm neighbour finds ideal.

    3. Puffed up macho faux off-roader styling, Mark? I’m as insecure as the next man but can’t justify telling everyone how insecure I am. Its shameful. Many of my fellow unitedstatesians seem to be proud of theirs.

      Right or wrong, that’s how I explain the craze for pickup trucks, especially the hyperagressively styled Sheep brand. Remember, the best-selling vehicle in the US is a pickup truck, Ford’s ever larger and more puffed up F-150.

    4. The H-point argument only holds water for the more car-like crossovers. When it comes to full-sized SUV’s it can be an entirely different matter. The height of something like a Range Rover can utterly defeat an elderly person, especially if they are small in stature. I’ve seen this first hand. MPV’s and tall saloons are far better for the elderly in my opinion, but of course older drivers don’t necessarily appreciate the stigma attached to such vehicles as much as anyone else does.

      As to niche going away – I don’t think anyone is advocating that. More that it would be preferable if it wasn’t the default choice it’s fast becoming now.

  5. Mark James: have you really got a Chrysler Delta? That´s fascinating. I had no idea it had any extra height. What´s it like to live with? I don´t suppose you see too many on the roads. It´s an interesting car, packaging-wise. Car magazine were bothered by the parcel shelf design and the dashboard. Can you see what they were on about. The few times I have seen one nothing seemed amiss to me.
    Jacomo: you point out the futility of the height arms race. Eventually most vehicles will be a bit taller and the competitive advantage ceases to exist. I suppose most people don´t see the matter in those terms. They want a taller car now and are happy that for a few years their cars is relatively very tall. They haven´t thought out the consequences.

    1. The Delta is a bit taller than average cars. I noticed getting into a friend’s Audi A4 how low the seats felt. Autocar’s opinion of the car seem to have been based on looking at one on Google maps. The parcel shelf is like any other parcel shelf while the dashboard is attractive and ergonomic. Autocar also go on about lack of steering feel; well I don’t take it on race tracks, but for the twisty roads of West Cornwall it’s fine. I imagine they drive with oven gloves on or something. The car’s biggest flaw for me is the driving position; thigh support is not great and the steering doesn’t telescope far enough resulting in a slightly (but not seriously) Italianate posture. My favourite feature is the large sunroof; opening sunroofs seem to be becoming increasingly rare yet for me they increase driving pleasure by a huge amount, especially in Spring when here in Cornwall, the sun often shines but there’s a cold wind. It turns the car into a lovely suntrap. I just wish I didn’t have to keep explaining to people that it is in no way related to the PT Cruiser!

  6. Enjoying bathing in the general glow of anti SUV/Crossover sentiment. I would love to believe that Peugeot have a third way but I agree with SV, it feels like they are clutching at straws. The “height arms race” still has a long way to run I feel. A Range Rover is a lot taller than a qashqui and engineers will surely find clever ways to make taller cars handle more and more like cars.

  7. Mark James: I presume if the driving position doesn´t suit you must be tallish. I think the Italian driving position is based on some conception of people which is not the European average. It´s remarkable that Lancia didn´t have reliable data for European body metrics. Have you ever inquired about getting Lancia badges for the car as that´s really what it is. There were a few sold in Ireland – I can´t remember if they were badged as Lancia but they were RHD. The production volumes for this car in RHD must have been tiny: hundreds? In other words, rarer than many Ferraris.

    1. Irish market Deltas were badged as Chryslers too. I think they may have sold about three. They probably would have fared better as Lancias. They could hardly have sold less…

  8. Concerning car heights, i´ve learned it is not that simple as it seems:
    Citroen CX: 1,36m
    Opel Signum: 1,46m
    Honda Civic Tourer; 1,47m
    Mercedes GLA: 1,49m
    Citroen C4 Cactus: 1,49m
    Lancia Delta 1,50m
    Mini Paceman ; 1,51m
    Skoda Fabia Estate II: 1,51m
    Citroen C3 and C4 : 1,52m
    (Citroen) DS5 : 1,53m
    Opel Astra Caravan (2010): 1,535m
    Suzuki Swift : 1,535m
    Peugeot 2008 : 1,55m
    Mini Countryman ; 1,56m
    Nissan Qashqai: 1,59m
    Fiat Croma :: 1,60m
    Citroen 2CV : 1,60m

    People want cars that are not only high, a car also have to look like a car that has higher mounted seats.
    By the way, the new hip A-class (“sporty, young, with muscles”) does not have so many sales as its predecessors (the cars for the silver-agers).

    1. Interesting and surprising research. I think the answer is to go out and buy a Renault Magnum truck.

    2. Nice research there. Also, the bit about the A-class. That is not what I expected. I wonder where their customers went? As I have a bit of history in the business of design for ageing, I can say I expect that the A-class customers went for something taller and easier to get into and out of. That might be an X-car from BMW or a Q-car from Audi or whatever the heck it is that Mercedes offers in that class (not much in comparison? – the GL-class and M-class are quite a bit more costly than an A-class, I assume).
      What a good thread this has been!

    3. Former A-class owners ought to buy a B-class instead, says Mercedes. And some probably did, with the rest getting themselves a BMW 2 series ‘Active Tourer’, presumably.

    4. Are you sure about the A-Class? My perception is that the new one is scarily ubiquitous, while especially the second generation was not very present on the streets. But maybe Switzerland is not representative for overall sales.

    5. I had always assumed the new A-Class met with great success, but had no figures to back up that assumption. The press has on occasion been quite withering of the car’s styling and perceived quality, but since when has that mattered?

    6. A-Class sales have been pretty good in Europe at least.

      1997 6.184
      1998 118.058
      1999 177.275
      2000 168.897
      2001 161.962
      2002 149.327
      2003 130.051
      2004 126.294
      2005 173.548
      2006 148.001
      2007 136.349
      2008 125.671
      2009 109.568
      2010 106.983
      2011 88.025
      2012 70.108
      2013 131.258
      2014 121.231
      2015 119.475

      Notably the launch of the mark 2 for 2005 prompted a bigger jump in sales than the current mark 3 in 2013. Of course, you also have to factor in the CLA:

      2012 37
      2013 27.598
      2014 38.374
      2015 62.100

      …And the GLA:

      2013 225
      2014 44.710
      2015 63.425

      Taken altogether, the A-Class and its sisters shifted 245,000 cars in 2015. Big numbers.

      All figures from http://left-lane.com/european-car-sales-data/mercedes-benz/

    7. Is that vehicle height, or seating height? A C3 is tall, as you write, but the seating position is not so high, it just has a mass of headroom. Ground clearance might be a better measure of what it is that SUV buyers like …

    8. I think you would have to measure the hip height. Most of the extra “ride height” of CUVs is a conjuring trick created by black cladding.

    9. H-points have been rising for years, not only for CUVs but also for mainstream hatchbacks. This is partly as a consequence of rising cowls, which have come about with cab-forward designs and greater crash structures, and the styling trend towards rising beltlines. Without a raised H-point, many drivers would not be able to see over the dashboard or around the wing mirrors, or out of the side windows of many modern cars.

  9. Chris: Good data. A quarter of a million cars, all of them taking sales from Opel, Ford, VW and the rest. This adds more weight to my argument about the high price the mainstream makers paid when the ceded the upper sectors. Even if they didn´t sell quite so many large cars they affect the perception of the brands, don´t they? The only thing the mainstream makers can do is to make cars better than the interlopers in their market and wait a decade before customers notice. There is no other way. People will pay less for a Mercedes but won´t pay more for a Ford – not until Fords are consistently better and seen to be better than Mercedes et al. Whoever has the secrets of fasteners, clips, rust-proofing and design for endurance needs to be selling their abilities to the mainstream makers.

    1. I simply cannot understand why anyone would buy an A-Class, other than the badge. Sure, the dashboard looks nice in higher trims, but the plastics are cheap and the fit around the doors is diabolical. And don’t get me started on the styling: the Toyota Auris is way more resolved. Any number of cars make a better fist of being a hatchback. An Audi A3 is way nicer inside and out, and the 1-Series has the USP of RWD. A Focus is likely better to drive than all of them. But hey, what about those Mercedes finance options, eh?

    2. As you know Chris, your first sentence is right. It is the badge, the badge and, foremost, the badge. And, much as I like to think myself above these things, and much as I’ve been at the vanguard of moaning about cackily styled Mercs over the past decade, there’s still a little bit of me that says – but it’s a Mercedes. Even the secondhand TN van I bought for work 20 years ago with its dreadful rust and far from bulletproof mechanicals was ….. a Mercedes. It’s amazing how much goodwill the teenage sighting of a few S Classes gets them.

    3. I’m wondering whether my view of the Wagener Benzes will mellow over time, as they are turning into an odd curiosity – ‘wasn’t that endearingly misguided, when Mercedes tried to be “kewl” with that A-class? You know, the one whose residual values bombed when it become so excruciatingly dated after a few years!’

      Or, more likely, my rejection only becomes more robust, as with the W210.

  10. I am convinced not many owners of the old A-Class are buying a new one (too low) or a B-class (too big). But what are they buying now? Good question – maybe a Golf Sportsvan, the typical car for older people in Germany. And for sure some small SUV´s like Opel Mokka, Skoda Yeti and Mercedes GLA.

    Mercedes is surely pleased with the sales numbers of the A-class. Production costs are for sure considerably lower and they are able to create more mutations out of a traditional compact car.
    And many of these cars are fully equipped, even with expensive AMG-parts.

    Chris: in your addition of A-Class versions, you forgot the Infiniti Q30 and QX30 😉

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