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Oracle of Delphi

Drivers wanted: Automakers push crossovers

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DETROIT - Cars were too small, sport utility vehicles too inefficient and she couldn't see herself driving a minivan. So Dr. Melissa Sundermann ended up with a type of vehicle that most automakers are banking on for sales growth: a crossover.

Built on car underpinnings but having many attributes of SUVs, crossover utility vehicles have seen explosive growth since Toyota Motor Corp. started the category with the RAV4 back in 1995.

In 1996, the RAV4's first full year on sale, Toyota told 56,709 of the small crossovers when it had the market to itself, according to data collected by Ward's Automotive Group. But sales rose quickly as other automakers saw the growth potential, topping 2.4 million last year with more than 50 models for sale.

Now, with the 2008 car model year approaching, automakers are hopinh to capture thousands of people like Sundermann who want more space for kids and their junk, and the array of models and sales are almost certain to grow.

Last year, crossovers outsold truck-based SUVs for the first time, said George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.'s top sales analyst.

"Next year, most likely, the category will climb over the 3 million mark, barring a sharp decline in total volume," Pipas said.

Sundermann, a physician and mother of two in Ann Arbor, Mich., felt that her old vehicle, a Volvo station wagon, didn't have enough room.

"In driving the kids around and doing car pooling, I just couldn't fit enough kids in my car safely," she said.

Sundermann, 37, started looking at large SUVs such as the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe, but wanted something smaller with better gas mileage. She also needed three rows of seats and enough space in the back for groceries and other items.

When her husband suggested looking at the Saturn Outlook, a new crossover vehicle, she thought it was odd because her image of the company was of one that made economy cars.

"With all the options, the price was right. We were impressed that the gas mileage was fairly decent for a bigger car," she said. "I can fit all my kids and their friends and all my stuff and still feel like I'm driving a luxury car."

The crossovers, which range in size from smaller four-passenger vehicles to ones seating up to eight, are key products for the Detroit Three as they try to regain market share lost mainly to Japanese competitors. Last month, Detroit's share of the market dropped below 50 percent for the first time in history.

Ford, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC lost a collective $15 billion last year as they were caught unprepared when high gasoline prices sent consumers away from trucks and sport utility vehicles to cars and crossovers.

A two-wheel-drive 2008 Ford Expedition large SUV, for instance, gets an estimated 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway. Ford's Taurus X crossover, built on a Volvo car platform with three rows of seats, gets 16 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.

Because they're built on car platforms, crossovers are more maneuverable and have smoother rides than the truck-based SUVs, said Lonnie Miller, director of industry analysis for R.L. Polk & Co.

"It provides kind of like the best of both worlds. It's a nice alternative to a minivan and as large in many cases as a gas-guzzling SUV," he said.

As crossovers have grown, minivan sales have dropped, off about 22 percent from the first seven months of last year and down 12 percent in 2006 compared with 2005. Ford and GM, seeing little growth potential, got out of the business. But Chrysler, the minivan inventor and leader, sees growth and is coming out with a new version of its people hauler featuring a seat that swivels so passengers can sit on either side of a table.

For Sundermann, though, a minivan didn't feel right.

"It would just define me," she said. "I lead a sporty, adventuresome lifestyle. I'm a mother and physician. But I wasn't ready to drive a minivan," said Sundermann, who competes in triathlons.

"Some people don't want to be seen as kind of that traditional suburban mom driving a minivan," said Sarah Woolson, general sales manager at Saturn of Ann Arbor, the dealership that sold Sundermann her black Outlook in April.

Crossover sales are up about 15 percent so far this year. At Ford, where crossover sales have risen 44 percent over last year due largely to the Edge, Pipas believes they will continue to pull in buyers from the minivan, SUV and other segments of the market.

Pipas predicted that in two more years, there will be 70 to 80 different crossover models from which buyers can choose.

"This whole category has a long way to go," he said.

Link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20761826/

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Like them or not they make alot of sense for families. You can get away from the gas hogs, minivan stigma, and get some car like luxuries. My only complaint is the price. The GM trio is $5000+ more than the minivan they are replacing. Even toyotas sienna is MUCH cheaper than the hylander.

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I guess that I just see these as the new minivan, the basic shape and configuration hold no appeal for me.

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I guess Madison Ave. has figured out yet another way to re-invent the family station wagon. :rolleyes:

Incrementally, we are going to go the direction of the ROW (Rest of the World) and get into 4 cylinder, FWD hatchbacks and minivans, just like we were 25 years ago, before we THOUGHT we were awash in cheap oil.

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I guess Madison Ave. has figured out yet another way to re-invent the family station wagon. :rolleyes:

Incrementally, we are going to go the direction of the ROW (Rest of the World) and get into 4 cylinder, FWD hatchbacks and minivans, just like we were 25 years ago, before we THOUGHT we were awash in cheap oil.

And, incrementally, my interest in new cars will disappear.

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I guess Madison Ave. has figured out yet another way to re-invent the family station wagon. :rolleyes:

Incrementally, we are going to go the direction of the ROW (Rest of the World) and get into 4 cylinder, FWD hatchbacks and minivans, just like we were 25 years ago, before we THOUGHT we were awash in cheap oil.

I guess gas prices aren't high enough yet for Americans to think like the ROW.

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I guess gas prices aren't high enough yet for Americans to think like the ROW.

Americans shouldn't "think like the rest of the world" , they should think like Americans.

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Americans shouldn't "think like the rest of the world" , they should think like Americans.

But they can learn a thing or two and improve on it. Do you really think we can sustain a lowly 24.6 mpg average indefinitely?

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But they can learn a thing or two and improve on it. Do you really think we can sustain a lowly 24.6 mpg average indefinitely?

The first order of business should be to shed the notion that the rest of the world can do a better job automatically. Americans should innovate, not compromise or accept the defeatist notion that we "can't". The existing "coping mechanisms" (especially in Europe) aren't acceptable to me - I won't accept that we have to drive tiny tin can cars just because "that's how Europe does it".

We can, and should, do better than that.

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The first order of business should be to shed the notion that the rest of the world can do a better job automatically. Americans should innovate, not compromise or accept the defeatist notion that we "can't". The existing "coping mechanisms" (especially in Europe) aren't acceptable to me - I won't accept that we have to drive tiny tin can cars just because "that's how Europe does it".

We can, and should, do better than that.

Innovation and technology cost money. Most people aren't willing to spend the extra $5-6K necessary just to get the fuel economy of many existing cars. It's much more feasible to compromise, as it's a quicker solution that doesn't rely entirely on uncertainty or faith. Who knows... maybe it'll be faster, more comfortable, more stylish, and cheaper, too...

And the best-selling car in Europe, the Astra, is by no means a tiny tin-can car. Their third best-selling car, the Focus, is as roomy as some midsize sedans. What we need here are better small cars (as well as a greater marketing effort), so that consumers at least have a choice.

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Innovation and technology cost money. Most people aren't willing to spend the extra $5-6K necessary just to get the fuel economy of many existing cars. It's much more feasible to compromise, as it's a quicker solution that doesn't rely entirely on uncertainty or faith. Who knows... maybe it'll be faster, more comfortable, more stylish, and cheaper, too...

And the best-selling car in Europe, the Astra, is by no means a tiny tin-can car. Their third best-selling car, the Focus, is as roomy as some midsize sedans. What we need here are better small cars (as well as a greater marketing effort), so that consumers at least have a choice.

While I agree that better small cars are needed, I don't see them as a viable, long-term answer. And in any case, I will never buy one. Fuel economy isn't the answer either, alternative fuels and propulsion are - that's where we need to focus our efforts. We will never conserve our way to energy independence.

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Agree, American car companies can do a better job of innovating and creating technologies, however, American car companies have done a good job of creating new and innovative features and packaging configurations. They can always do more, and should do more. I think GM is on the right track developing new technologies within each brand. I think American car companies (and Americans in general) get a bad rap when they are labeled lazy about improving technology. I also think the media influences this feeling in our country and over in Europe. This attitude towards Americans can even be seen as locally as on this board from certain members. That being said, Americans should work ahead on new technologies in all areas of engineering and technologies and never settle when they achieve awards and recognition.

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The first order of business should be to shed the notion that the rest of the world can do a better job automatically. Americans should innovate, not compromise or accept the defeatist notion that we "can't". The existing "coping mechanisms" (especially in Europe) aren't acceptable to me - I won't accept that we have to drive tiny tin can cars just because "that's how Europe does it".

We can, and should, do better than that.

Camino aren't you doing exactly that when GM makes you settle for the crumbs off the Holden table, instead of letting Chevy, Pontiac, GMC, etc. do a real Chevy, Pontiac, GMC, etc. RWD, V8? An American one, instead of taking the scraps from the Holden table, I would have thought you would be demanding a real American RWD V8. :scratchchin:

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Camino aren't you doing exactly that when GM makes you settle for the crumbs off the Holden table, instead of letting Chevy, Pontiac, GMC, etc. do a real Chevy, Pontiac, GMC, etc. RWD, V8? An American one, instead of taking the scraps from the Holden table, I would have thought you would be demanding a real American RWD V8. :scratchchin:

No, and I wouldn't call them crumbs. The V8 is an American one as you well know. Holden just wraps it in a package that is more American than all of the japanese- wannabe designs our domestics have been churning out since the 80s. Someone remembered how to build an American car - it just happens that the "someone " is Australian.

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No, and I wouldn't call them crumbs. The V8 is an American one as you well know. Holden just wraps it in a package that is more American than all of the japanese- wannabe designs our domestics have been churning out since the 80s. Someone remembered how to build an American car - it just happens that the "someone " is Australian.

Good point Camino. I've always thought the Australian sedans were more traditionally American than the recent front wheel drive American sedans.

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No, and I wouldn't call them crumbs. The V8 is an American one as you well know. Holden just wraps it in a package that is more American than all of the japanese- wannabe designs our domestics have been churning out since the 80s. Someone remembered how to build an American car - it just happens that the "someone " is Australian.

Australian is still Australian and not American and never will be. I never thought I'd see the day when you started to speak with a forked tongue! First time for everything I guess. :smilewide:

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Australian is still Australian and not American and never will be. I never thought I'd see the day when you started to speak with a forked tongue! First time for everything I guess. :smilewide:

C'mon, you know better. Yes, I want to see American-style cars being built right here, but in the meantime I'll take what I can get from an American corporation even if it is built elsewhere.

No FWD Camry wannabes will ever be in my future. The domestics have a lot of work to do getting back to building genuine American cars, when they get there, I'll be waiting to buy one.

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C'mon, you know better. Yes, I want to see American-style cars being built right here, but in the meantime I'll take what I can get from an American corporation even if it is built elsewhere.

No FWD Camry wannabes will ever be in my future. The domestics have a lot of work to do getting back to building genuine American cars, when they get there, I'll be waiting to buy one.

That's the difference then, I'll wait. In the meantime my ass will never be tainted by Australian leather touching it! :AH-HA_wink:

G'Day Mate! :P

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Doesn't alot of leather GM uses come from Australian cattles ranches? I thought I read that somewhere. :scratchchin:

Edited by K.C.
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Like them or not they make alot of sense for families. You can get away from the gas hogs, minivan stigma, and get some car like luxuries. My only complaint is the price. The GM trio is $5000+ more than the minivan they are replacing. Even toyotas sienna is MUCH cheaper than the hylander.

Which is another reason GM and Ford are not building them.
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