It is unclear how exactly the sport-utility vehicle came about. Some enthusiasts point to early wagon-type vehicles as the SUV’s earliest progenitors, including the 1930s Chevrolet Carryall Suburban, the 1940s Willys Jeep Station Wagon and the 1950s International Harvester Travelall. Others credit the 1980s Jeep Cherokee as the real template for the modern SUV as we know it today.
One thing is clear, though: With global warming now a priority issue and road space already a scarce commodity, the days of the hulking, gas-guzzling sport-ute are over. When Land Rover rolled out the very last unit of the old Defender in January 2016, it looked like the perfect symbolism for the surrender of SUV manufacturers amid the onslaught of mini, fuel-efficient hatchbacks.
But then, it seems buyers have pivoted back to SUVs. Or at least vehicles that sport a semblance of the SUV’s versatility and some off-road capability. Enter the crossover, an amalgam of passenger-car chassis and SUV styling. And among crossover SUVs, it’s the subcompact ones that are making a killing in the sales department.
In our market alone, we have enough models of the small crossover to hold a car show of their own. We have the Chevrolet Trax, the Ford EcoSport, the Honda HR-V, the Hyundai Creta, the Kia Soul, the Mazda CX-3 and the Nissan Juke. You can even throw in the Mitsubishi ASX if you like. Very recently, Suzuki had been so tempted by the robust sales in this class that it downsized the Vitara, shaving off almost 500 millimeters from the previous-generation model’s overall length and dropping the “Grand” from the vehicle’s name.
Consider that the overall market leader, Toyota, hasn’t even entered the fray (although it can if it chooses to, with the C-HR).
Ever the shrewd business entity, Hyundai isn’t leaving anything to chance, releasing an even more diminutive crossover in the Kona, which it is displaying at the ongoing Los Angeles Auto Show. And speaking of this motor show, many other production and concept SUVs rule the exhibition floor, with the following being introduced to the US market via this expo: BMW Concept X7 iPerformance, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar E-Pace, Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Discovery SVX, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Nissan Kicks, Subaru Ascent, Toyota FT-AC and Volvo XC40.
And just as the attention of the automotive world is currently fixed on the LA show, here comes Lamborghini stealing its thunder with the production version of the Urus, which the Italian automaker touts as the first-ever “super SUV.”
It looks like the forecast made by industry observers is correct: Global SUV sales will supposedly exceed 21 million units by 2020, and 40% of all vehicles sold in that year will apparently be SUVs. No wonder car manufacturers are rushing to cash in. Peugeot Philippines last week held its first event of the year, and it was to launch three new products, all SUVs: the subcompact 2008, the compact 3008 and the midsize 5008.
Auto companies build what their customers demand, and distributors import what their market dictates. The reason they’re all building and importing SUVs is that people demand and dictate SUVs.
Moving forward, manufacturers are finding ways to make the SUV sustainable for the future. If car buyers insist on the SUV’s configuration and practicality, automakers just need to future-proof it. Volkswagen, for instance, is pushing for an electric compact SUV in the form of the ID Crozz concept, while Jaguar has already announced the availability of the I-Pace electric SUV for 2018.
It’s an SUV world we live in these days. Hard to believe that at this point of the automobile’s evolution, a vehicle type once condemned for being excessive and unnecessary is enjoying a resurgence. I guess that’s largely thanks to humanity’s propensity for posturing — our need to ride higher, appear more active, seem more flexible. Long live the SUV.