Imagining the ‘After-SUV’

We’ve been here before I know, but somewhat akin to the crossover CUV itself, this one simply refuses to go away.

2017 Peugeot 3008: Image Credit: cars.co.za

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.

peugeot 508 sw
The future? Image credit: (c) Autocar

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Imagining the ‘After-SUV’”

  1. The next Big Thing certainly would be the ultimate crossover: a floatable cross-country campmobile with convertible roof.

    1. …with footprint similar to Smart for easy handling around city centre (I suppose this will look more like selfpropelled skyscraper than a car) 🙂

    2. The revolutionary new all over cross over obviously would have a second set of wheels mounted vertically at the back. It then could be flipped into a vertical position for inner city use or parking, using these rear mounted wheels. When there’s enough space it would return to a conventional position. The name of that car would have to express its revolutionary all enveloping character and it would have to contain a punctuation mark – like ¿CON’fusion?
      Now tell me this vehicle would not sell by the million!

  2. A note of scepticism: the SUV and CUV boom reflect the againg, fattening profile of Europe. Add to that the fact smaller people love these tall cars, I feel the demand for taller cars won’t go away. It’s about hip points: at hip height is best for larger/older drivers. Asking people to sit low into cars went unchallenged for decades. Then Europe aged and got broad about the beam.

    1. Exactly. On the Truth About Cars website today, the exact same question about crossovers or CUVs was asked. Coincidence? The result was the same – these things are here to stay.

      Your average customer considering an actual real car, like me, has to be really sure of their choice. Residuals for cars are frighteningly low. So leasing or that PSP scheme you have has to be considered as well, before the bottom drops out of the saloon car market forever. A tippy stroller is likely to be in most people’s futures.

      As it is, most people drive pretty sedately these days, and arguments for defter handling fall largely on uncomprehending ears. In the crossovers’ favour, car seats for kids fit more easily, you can see further in traffic, and you don’t have to stoop to enter if fat or have bad knees or arthritis. And you can load bags of dry dog food at waist height in the back. Talk about clipping apexes is lost on the general public.

  3. There is also the matter of speed humps to consider…ask the man in a 22 year old XJ6!

    1. I find people in SUVs and even full-blown 4x4s are slowest over speed bumps in London, which always puzzles me. Something to do with ride height making the feel more unpleasant maybe?

  4. History has a habit of repeating itself; many cars of the 50s were tall and narrow and there was a rush towards lower, wider, sleeker cars throughout the 60s. Now take a look at the BMW X2 or Jaguar I – Pace.

  5. I think the market for SUVs has a lot of growth left in it, globally. In addition to the elderly and those with a fuller figure, women like SUVs – for their ease of use, good visibility, road presence and assumed safety. I mention women, as they play an increasingly large role in household vehicle selection.

    I’ve taken a look at The International Council On Clean Transportation’s European Vehicle Market Statistics Pocketbook for 2016 / 2017 (my bedtime reading) and most regions’ top sellers across the world are B- and C-segment hatchbacks, so there’s some way yet to go for SUVs.

    However, in Europe, there must be a limit, as beyond a certain size, vehicles become too inconvenient to manoeuvre / park (see also our rejection of American vehicles).

    I also believe that we might think that there are more SUVs on the roads than there really are, because a lot of them have been launched recently and they’ve had a great deal of coverage. Finally, if you don’t like them much (I’m ambivalent – some are good, some less so), you may be likely to notice them more, or be disproportionately irritated by the arrival of each new model.

    Future body styles? I’d go for further variations on the hatchback, which is all an SUV is, really.

  6. Four months ago I changed my beloved Ampera for an i3 which I’ve found to be much easier for gaining entry and loading plus manoeuvring . I wouldn’t consider The BMW an SUV but its height is definitely an attribute in daily usage however seeing past other users becomes irrelevant when we “all” are driving SUVs.

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