Life Auto Kerching: why car companies want you to buy an SUV

Kerching: why car companies want you to buy an SUV

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Australians love the great outdoors. Which is why Sport Utility Vehicles – say it with a yank accent for a hint of the now-ubiquitous term’s origin – are the new cars of choice for around one-third of local new car buyers. Some manufacturers try and soften the blow by calling their SUVs ‘Sports Activity Vehicles’ or even ‘crossovers’.

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Make no mistake, however, they’re high-riding birds of a feather – and Aussies can’t get enough of them.

Our love affair with the SUV has taken another step forward in 2015.

In the first half of the year while the new car market overall was up just over three per cent, SUVs sales overall have grown almost four times faster. Registrations of vehicles that sit in the burgeoning ‘Small’ part of the marketplace (think Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V) have almost doubled that rate of growth.

At the same time, sales of ‘conventional’ passenger cars have retreated. In fact, even before you add dual-cab utes into the mix (ever more often a family and work car choice Down Under), 2015’s overall market’s growth can entirely be sheeted home to SUVs.

SUVs are selling like hotcakes in Australia. Photo: Getty
SUVs are selling like hotcakes in Australia. Photo: Getty

The ‘why’ is a little chicken and egg. There’s more choice than ever before in the combined high-riding segment, but surely this itself is a function of the demand.

Then there’s this: it doesn’t hurt the cause that manufacturers have a vested interest in tipping you into an SUV.

Most mainstream manufacturers now offer a choice of SUVs – and some brands offer a substantial number of models across size ranges. Indeed, there’s an almost unseemly rush by some car companies to get more softroaders into the Aussie marketplace, as if their future growth and prosperity depends on it.

Much has been written about the appeal of the elevated ‘command’ driving positions of SUVs but this has been eroded as more and more similarly proportioned vehicles have hit the roads.

Although this factor no doubt still offers some traction with buyers, the real attraction of SUVs is what the auto business calls ‘packaging’. Delivering more with less – and in this case charging more for it!

Delivering more with less – and in this case charging more for it!

How vehicles are physically configured and how they address the needs of a disparate range of buyers is a science in its own right, but that science is arguably illustrated at its very best in the latest crop of SUVs.

Take our chart-topping small SUVs as an example. Using light car architectures as their building blocks, manufacturers are delivering vehicles that offer (in many cases) better than the next size up accommodation and, despite manageable external dimensions, an on-road presence that is also upsized.

Add in features that include the latest in safety and connectivity and it’s little wonder buyers are queuing up.

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From just a few offerings two years ago, this small SUV segment now includes almost 30 models and there are more to come – from utilitarian mass market examples to high-spec, high fashion and high priced prestige offerings from brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

And as much as the vehicles’ new owners are cock-a-hoop about their quasi-offroad style icons, manufacturers and dealers too are doing their very best Cheshire Cat impersonations.

The key to this is a paragraph or two back. And if you’ve recently purchased an SUV and haven’t got the gist of what we’re saying, it’s now time to look away.

Very simply, the SUV craze allows manufacturers to sell vehicles with Small car pricetags (or better) and in most cases build them at Light car costs…

It’s sort of like selling you a family-sized Westinghouse with the heart and soul of a bar fridge.

I can’t wait until a manufacturer actually calls a spade a spade and badges its next new compact SUV, The Kerching.


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