The SUV, or Sports Utility Vehicle, has evolved dramatically over the past few years as have the people who buy them. The SUV used to be a premium four-wheel drive jeep but now as more affordable smaller versions are becoming available; their sales have soared. In 2015 the SUV was the most popular body style in Europe. That is the first time ever that sales numbers for traditional bestsellers, the compact and supermini, were surpassed by any other body type. In Ireland, the best-selling car of 2016 was the Hyundai Tucson while the first two weeks of 2017 saw one in four new cars registered were SUVs. This begs the question; what prompted the universal take off of the SUV?
It all began in 2007 when the new Nissan Qashqai hit showrooms. This was the car that kick started the revolution. More of a crossover than an out-and-out SUV, it was aimed at those looking for more of a dynamic design that a simple hatchback or saloon while not wanting a large off-roader. It was in such high demand that Nissan even neglected some of their other models to produce as many Qashqai as they could. Over 100,000 units were sold in the first year and after 18 months, Nissan brought out the Qashqai+2 as a seven seat version. People took to the Qashqai as the quirky alternative family car.
After the Qashqai’s huge success, other manufacturers wanted in on the fastest growing market. There is now a much wider range of small and mid-sized SUVs available. These are the cars that are selling like hot cakes. People are drawn to them as they have the luxury and expensive persona that comes with an SUV while being relatively affordable. Their biggest selling point is the space inside the car and the road presence that comes with a car high up off the ground. Another use is as a substitute people carrier. Many of the larger SUVs have a seven seat variant giving larger families much more choice in the car market.
The executive brands are also getting in on the action. Even though the traditional SUVs were from these luxury marks, the demand is now much greater and they have to offer a much wider variety of models. Take for example BMW who fifteen years ago had only their X5 in this category. They quickly realised there was a market for a smaller X3, then a sportier X6, then a smaller than X3 X1, and most recently a smaller than X6 and more sportier than X3 X4. See what I mean? Audi have also expanded their Q range in a similar fashion and Mercedes have now four models in their GL line up. A step up again sees Porsche and Jaguar producing SUVs, which twenty years ago would have seemed crazy. Most recently, Bentley have rolled out their quarter of a million euro Benteyga, clearly showing those who used to be the only ones able to afford an SUV have simply upped their game.