- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A relatively new term in automotive lingo that’s been around for only a couple of years will become more commonplace in 2006 as “crossovers” — also known as crossover utility vehicles — proliferate in total sales volume and in models offered.

CUVs are car-based vehicles that feature styling cues of the truck-based sport utility vehicle segment. Crossovers are expected to be hot sellers in the coming years.

“Like any industry, the automotive market is subject to trends based on consumer demographics and tastes. Starbucks transformed our cup of Joe. Apple’s IPod altered how we listen to music,” said George Pipas, Ford sales analyst, in a speech to Detroit’s Automotive Press Association. “And new, fuel-efficient CUVs are the next major evolution in what we drive.”

As Mr. Pipas pointed out, the term “crossover utility vehicle” didn’t even exist in 2000, when a smattering of small car-based utilities accounted for just over 500,000 sales.

In 2005, CUV sales hit about 2.2 million. “That’s faster than the explosive growth of SUVs during their heydays of the 1990s,” Mr. Pipas noted.

It’s not just high gasoline prices, but market demographics that are causing this, Mr. Pipas said.

He said the estimated 65 million to 70 million consumers in the baby boom generation are driving the growth.

“High gas prices this summer definitely influenced the rise in CUV popularity,” Mr. Pipas said. “But fuel costs are not the cause, only the accelerator. As gas prices fluctuate up and down, they will only speed up or slow down the rate at which crossovers increase while traditional SUV sales move to a smaller percentage of the market.”

Mr. Pipas said that in the 1980s, these baby boomers flocked to minivans, looking for a convenient way to transport their young, growing families.

In the 1990s, these same baby boomers were attracted to the versatility and adventurous style of truck-based sport-utility vehicles powered by big V-8 engines.

In the first decade of the new millennium, boomers have fewer children living at home and decreased need for seating capacity.

As a result, boomers are turning to the emerging CUV market, attracted to car-based, V-6-powered utility vehicles that offer all the style and functionality of a larger SUV, but are lighter, more agile and fuel-efficient.

“As baby boomers approach their 60s, they need cars for grandkids, not children,” Mr. Pipas said. “They need seating for occasional use when the grandkids visit, not the day-to-day child transportation they needed 10 years ago. Plus, they aren’t quite as limber as they were 10 years ago, so the idea of climbing into a taller truck isn’t as appealing as it once was.”

These baby boomers are joined by younger families, also attracted to the stylish exterior, functional interior and fuel efficiency offered by a CUV.

These buyers need seating for their families and room for their associated gear, but do not yet need the full seating of a minivan or the increased towing capacity of a traditional V-8 sport utility.

A number of new CUVs will be introduced this year.

At the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, new crossover introductions were the Acura RDX, Buick Enclave, Ford Edge, Jeep Compass, and Lincoln MKX (previously called the Aviator).

Hyundai showed the second generation of its popular crossover, the Santa Fe, going into production later this year in Alabama.

Kia tried out its idea for a sporty CUV with the Soul concept.

Mr. Pipas said the new 2007 Ford Edge, arriving in showrooms this winter, exemplifies the appeal CUVs offer to both baby boomers and young families.

“For style, the Edge offers a rakish profile, 18-inch wheels and a bold four-bar grille,” he said.

“For functionality, the Edge offers seating for five, up to 63 cubic feet of cargo, integrated storage for laptops and MP3 players, and six cup holders to accommodate all the occupants’ triple nonfat lattes,” Mr. Pipas said.

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