Sales in the subcompact SUV segment rose by an astonishing 214% between 2014 and 2015, driven by the introduction of five new models to the market in 2015, which more than tripled the number of models to seven. It is clearly a fast-evolving segment, but no longer a niche one with almost 300,000 sales in 2015. In fact, it is entirely conceivable this segment will reach 500,000 units in 2016 as new carmakers enter the segment, and more and more consumers switch away from their mainstream hatchbacks and downsize from their compact SUVs.
The Buick Encore retained its segment lead in 2015 thanks to a rise in sales by 38% compared to 2014. However, the new market entrants are snapping at its heals. In second spot is the Chevrolet Trax, a sister model to the Encore, which Chevy originally did not intend to sell in the US, but which immediately rose to second place once introduced towards the end of 2014. This is all the more impressive given that the duo are the second-oldest models in the segment, younger only than the trailblazing Nissan Juke.
Compared to the rest of the segment, the small Nissan seems to be stuck in reverse – it lost 29% of its sales compared to 2014, and was overtaken not only by the Trax, but also by the new-for-2015 Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V. Of the two, it’s the Renegade that has done best – after production ramped up mid-way through the year, it was the bestselling model in the segment from August on. Something truly bizarre would have to happen to prevent the Renegade will be the segment leader in 2016.
The final two new models in the segment, the Fiat 500X and the Mazda CX-3, haven’t done nearly as well as the other newcomers. Of the two, it is possible the CX-3 will still bring in decent business for Mazda, as sales have risen every month since its introduction to the market in August. The outlook for the 500X is less rosy. Sales for the twin to the Renegade seem to have plateaued at around 2,000 units, about a fifth of what its rugged cousin is selling. This does not make the 500X a per se flop for Fiat, since in Europe it easily outsells the Renegade, but it does put into question the future of the Fiat brand in the US. With the aging 500 struggling due to low gas prices and the ungainly 500L failing to establish a foothold, it will be interesting how long Sergio Marchionne will continue to push the Fiat brand in the US.
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