The history of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is a strong example of how end-users drive not only demand, but also the design, application and price point.
The first SUVs were rugged, primarily used in military applications. The Jeep started it all in the 1940s, when it began its quest to manufacture SUVs for consumers looking to Go Anywhere. Do Anything.© While this certainly opened up opportunities for consumers to adventure and go beyond the limitations of a car, they were not considered daily drivers. Similarly, International Harvester released the Scout, designed for off-roading and climbing.
Toyota launched the Land Cruiser in the 1950s, and then in the mid-1960s Ford debuted the Bronco, which created a whole new industry for hobbyists and entrepreneurs in restoration, and is now a cult classic. Chevrolet later came out with the Blazer, GMC developed the Jimmy, and so forth and so on.
Trucks were also an early alternative to cars, offering the utilitarian features that we can now expect from most vehicles. The ability to store, haul, and do so with adequate power, clearance and braking systems. Then in the late 1950s the concept of a hybrid car/truck was born. The Ford Ranchero debuted, soon followed by the Chevrolet El Caminos. All the comforts of a car, with a truck bed. This style was produced well into the 1980s.
Then in the 1970s came the Land Rover Range Rover, a new application for the SUV was born, bringing high-end finishes into the SUV. This concept was not one that other manufacturers tried to compete with, it was really a class of its own for decades, but the high price point made it unattainable for the middle class.
At this point, the auto manufacturers were looking to meet the demands of the consumer by providing a more enclosed, safe, practical and functional SUV. The Ford Explorer is a good example of an SUV being built upon an existing truck chassis.
The very first crossover was born when Toyota revealed a new concept, the Rav-4, which was an SUV atop a car chassis.
Honda soon followed suit with its CR-V, and new entrants in the industry took advantage of this new consumer-driven design, like Infinity and its FX. So how has the Crossover impacted the SUV market?
SUVs are now expected to handle more like cars, provide smooth rides and luxurious features like heated leather seats and carbon-fiber inlays. SUVs take the car and essentially lift it up to provide more clearance, more visibility and an enhanced sense of safety. In the 1990s and early 2000s, larger luxury SUVs were all the rage, like the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and Toyota Highlander.
It seemed as though the minivan was being replaced with the “SUV”, though the majority of SUVs were not being used in a sporty fashion. Toyota got creative and released the FJ to compete with Jeep in the offroading market.
So fast forward, and what do we see on the roads today? Instead of an SUV, a sedan and a coupe, auto makers are now creating crossovers of all sizes. If the full-size SUV of choice is too large for you, don’t worry, there are several other options that allow you to choose the right fit. Fuel economy has become a more important factor in consumer buying decisions, and one of the primary considerations for engineering.
Today you can select from an array of crossovers, and depending on your taste you can spend a little or a lot. Whether you prefer the German options, BMW X3 or X1, or Audi’s Q3 or Q5, you have your luxury performance vehicle. If you prefer a more economical solution, you can choose from the Hyundai or Kia lineup, with Toyota and Honda somewhere in the middle.
Ultimately, the major impact the crossover has had is the automotive industry’s ability to accomodate consumer demands and create the look, feel and driving experience every driver is looking for.