Sales in the compact SUV segment rose by 15% between 2014 and 2015, considerably faster than the industry average of 5% – not bad for what is the largest segment in the US by quite some margin. In addition to being the largest by volume, it is also one of the largest by number of models offered: 22 distinct models were offered over the past two years. Its success, and the proliferation of offering from carmakers, is driven by a long-term trend wherein mainstream consumers are moving away from the traditional “family car”, a mid-sized sedan, towards crossovers which offer greater practicality, flexibility and desirability. In fact, many offerings in this segment are little more than slightly taller, slightly butcher wagon version of mainstream models: the Honda CR-V was the first and remains the prime example of this kind of approach. On the other end are cars like the Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser, attempts by those carmakers to appeal to the outdoor, adventure-seeking crowd with funky styling and sturdy, body-on-frame construction; however, these models have long been losing popularity and will most likely be discontinued before long.
The aforementioned Honda CR-V was the market leader for the 9th time in the past decade, perfectly capturing what consumers are looking for: spaciousness, dependability, and just that little bit of aggression in the styling. But despite a recent facelift the CR-V may feel the heat in 2016 from the Toyota RAV4, which closed to within 30,000 units of it in 2015 on the back of 18% growth year-on-year. In the process the RAV4 placed ahead of the Ford Escape for the first time since 2007, suggesting that the latter’s facelift, revealed in late 2015, come just in time. In fact, the Escape selling pretty much the same number of units in 2015 as in 2014 is the worst performance in this segment, short of the two body-on-frame models.
The star performer of the segment, though, remains the Nissan Rogue. The latest version, which came out in 2013, has proven very good at attracting consumers with its sleek styling inside and out, but most importantly with the option of a 3rd row of seats. Funny enough, other competitors, such as the RAV4, stopped offering this option just as the Rogue introduced it – it’ll be interesting whether the Rogue’s success will convince other carmakers to start offering it as well. For now, the Rogue seems to be going from strength to strength, jumping over the Chevy Equinox to claim 4th spot, and may yet challenge for as high as 2nd spot in 2016 (the CR-V is probably still out of reach).
Just behind the top 5 we find three Jeep models: the Cherokee (5th), Wrangler (6th) and Patriot (8th); the Compass is a little bit further down in 14th. All four models’ sales grew in 2015, which is pretty remarkable especially for the Patriot and Compass, as both models were barely competitive when they came out in 2007, and haven’t really improved greatly with age. Just goes to prove just how much cachet the Jeep brand has with buyers – much like the BMW blue propeller supported the sales of the pretty-atrocious 1st gen X1.
Another notable player in the segment is Subaru, which offers two models: Forrester, which placed 8th in 2015, and the XV Crosstrek, essentially an Outback version of the Impreza hatch, which placed 13th. The latter did especially well last year, which is surprising given that it’s getting on in age slightly, and its slight fuel economy advantage over more upright competitors counts for little in the era of cheap gas.
Pretty much every other crossover model in this segment did pretty well – some grew faster than the segment (e.g. the new Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, the heavily-discounted VW Tiguan, the already bargain-basement Mitsubishi Outlander), others more slowly (GMC Terrain, Mazda CX-5). Uniquely, it’s the last three spots that provide some interesting reading: as mentioned before, the two old-fashioned models, Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser, saw their sales fall and will most likely be pulled from the market before long. A counterbalance to their performance is the 112% growth in sales recorded by the new Land Rover Discovery Sport which uniquely in this class, like the Rogue, offers a third row of seats. However, it is starting from such a low base, that Land Rover must surely be disappointed the model is not doing better.
Note: clicking on the model name opens the sales data page for that model; clicking year in the legend turns the display for that year on/off