We’ve been here before I know, but somewhat akin to the crossover CUV itself, this one simply refuses to go away.
Everything has a shelf-life, none more so than fashion items. Given their popularity with the buying public and the margins to be made upon their sale, compact crossovers have proliferated to an unsettling degree. So much so, it feels as though we are drowning in a CUV sea, whereas in fact they represent just a quarter of European new car sales.
This being so, the idea that crossovers could eventually fall out of motorists’ favour appears not only naive, but somewhat delusional. Most of us know, in engineering and fitness for purpose terms, they are entirely the wrong answer to our current (and future) needs, but they have proven to be a lucrative path of minimum resistance for an increasingly embattled and risk-averse industry.
Two years ago, PSA’s Maxime Picat propounded the rather thrilling notion that CUV sales could not keep growing inexorably, a theory largely dismissed at the time as an excuse for the French carmaker’s lack of market penetration. PSA has subsequently plugged its product gaps somewhat, belatedly joining the crossover ranks and will by the end of the year have as many as ten such vehicles available to be purchased, leased, rented, pre-ordered or otherwise purloined across its expansive four-brand portfolio.
Recently however, PSA has again found itself at the vanguard of a putative post-CUV conversation. This time it’s Peugeot CEO, Jean-Phillippe Imperato, speaking at the launch of the recent 508 SW, who told Autocar’s Matt Prior that the Belfort Lion is actively looking at a point in the near-future where the CUV market becomes saturated and customers begin seeking alternatives.
Imperato suggests that this could even begin to take place within the next five years, when not only will CUV’s have proliferated to such a giddy extent that they are no longer the aspirant’s choice, but as emissions regulations tighten and designers find it increasingly difficult and expensive to deal effectively with the weight and height limitations of these vehicles, sleeker, lither options, he argues, will begin to make a stronger case for themselves.
Not that there is much evidence of palpable change right now, as across the European region, the finest industry minds and most inventive design teams continue to craft ever-more elaborate and needlessly diverse CUV offerings – after all, why stop dancing while the music’s swinging?
Nevertheless, despite the huge commitments made to the format, no car manufacturer can afford to sit still, and in design studios from Sochaux to Sindelfingen, we are told, teams of designers, crystal balls and moodboards aloft, are hard at work, striving to synthesize inspiration from aspiration into The Next Big Thing.
According to Autocar’s Mr. Prior, much of the current thinking appears to centre around variations upon existing formats, with the lifestyle estate / break /station wagon seemingly the bodystyle viewed as having the most potential for future development.
But we really ought not get carried away. While the crossover’s ubiquity may ultimately be called into question (in mature European markets at least), rumours of its demise are, one suspects, still some way into the realms of wishful thinking. It’s certainly difficult to envisage the format suffering the kind of catastrophic reversal of fortune which befell the MPV in recent years.
Because there are several holes in this theory, not least of which is the question of electric vehicles. Given the skateboard architecture imposed upon most current and imminent electric cars, where battery packs are placed low-down within the wheelbase, manufacturers seem likely to have little choice but to continue to offer taller vehicles, simply to accommodate both power source and passengers alike.
Furthermore, while a significant portion of the CUV’s appeal, like that of its bigger, brawnier SUV sibling is sales and marketing-driven, for a significant subset of customers, it’s likely to remain a relevant and appealing bodystyle, albeit one which may prove a tougher, pricier sell as it faces tighter regulatory and ethical challenges over coming decades.
There is however a further subtext to Imperato’s sotto-voce foregleam. Right now, carmakers are desperate to sell us one of their freshly minted crossovers, and of course we’re similarly keen to purchase them. But once a tipping point in the demand equation is determined, their formidable marketing armies will undoubtedly swing into action to subtly recalibrate our desires. Suggesting of course that they could, if they chose, alter course now. That they choose not to, speaks volumes.