By Larry P. Vellequette, Crain News Service
DETROIT — A few weeks from now in Toledo, Ohio, Kristina Wisner will trade in her dinged-up 2006 Honda Civic for a 2016 Honda HR-V, so she can “sit higher” and “be able to haul stuff when I need to.”
When she gets her new subcompact crossover, Ms. Wisner will be yet another consumer abandoning a sedan for a crossover or SUV.
The evidence of what's going on is striking: Through the first half of the year, in a U.S. market that's up 4.4 percent, the historically biggest segment — midsize cars — is down 3.4 percent. It begs a question: Why now?
The answer, according to experts, is that consumers no longer must choose between the fuel economy and comfortable ride of a sedan and the versatility and increased visibility of a crossover or SUV.
“If you go back in time and [bought] an SUV, you would be compromised to some extent of the way that vehicle performed on-road,” said Mike Manley, the global head of the brand that has most capitalized on the shift, Jeep.
“Now I can get everything I want to get, and I don't have to give up all those things that I might have had to give up five or six years ago,” he said.
John Krafcik, president of TrueCar.com, said the additional cargo and passenger space in crossovers and SUVs enables consumers to do more with those vehicles, such as haul large items, than with similar-sized sedans.
“One of the fundamental drivers of the American car industry is that, all other things being equal, people will always choose the most flexibility,” said Mr. Krafcik, a former executive with Ford Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor America.
Consumer appetites for crossovers and SUVs have been growing for years, and auto makers have scrambled their lineups to capitalize on the shift, adding crossovers and subtracting sedans.
Some of the move to crossovers and SUVs can be explained by the increased fuel economy of those vehicles, some of which — such as the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Escape — now share platforms and components with fuel-efficient cars.
“If you're coming out of a car that is a decade old, the chances that a new crossover matches or beats your car in gas mileage is pretty good,” says Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc.