What could succeed the SUV?
With Make after Make embarking on the introduction of an SUV model, will the worldwide dominance of the segment eventually fade? If so, what's next?
When the very first iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs back in 2007, he stated his ability to predict the market by using a line about "Skating to where the puck is going, not where it's been."
In this line, Jobs was quoting the hockey great Wayne Gretsky. While the Dark Wiggle was considered a great stealer of ideas, on this occasion, he actually cited the original source.
The short-sightedness of the car industry has a storied history in Australia, in where this quote could be considered applicable. This was in an era where small cars were the largest selling segment, and local car-maker Holden decided to shift manufacturing to assemble a competitor in that market - the Holden (Chevrolet) Cruze.
The fortunes of that vehicle did not lead to the survival of Holden, which eventually closed manufacturing for reasons myriad.
Given the 20-20 nature of hindsight, the tactic of entering the most hotly contested market was a misstep, further exaggerated by the shifting of tastes that was also occurring at the time. Whether it was either lack of judgement or an unlucky break is an opinion that will ultimately reside in the individual, but it just shows how a lack of agility during times of change will, and can be, potentially fatal.
With Aston Martin recently embarking its hike on the well-worn SUV segment of the market that was (in the premium sector) blazed by Porsche before, and keenly on the heels of the likes of Lamborghini Urus, I did wonder whether there is a saturation point that is being reached, and whether tastes are on the cusp of a change.
Is the consumer tiring of SUVs? Are people becoming wiser to the fact that, despite all appearances, SUVs offer little more - and can actually be in deficit - to wagon, or even sedan alternatives? In a former life, I once had an argument with someone that a Subaru Forester actually didn't have much more room in the cargo area than in the boot of a Holden Cruze, in terms of litres, so their reasons for a wagon were as unappealing as the small car that I was giving them.
It was on a cars-related podcast where I heard the claim that Europeans are starting to steer away from the SUV segment. Thus far, I have been unable to find any news story with which to back up that claim, but if it were true, then I would wonder which direction the market would head.
With all these Makes like Lamborghini and Aston Martin building SUVs, would they have been better suited to ignore the fashion and instead embark on their own trail?
But where would they go?
The Shooting Brake models, I feel, are getting a lot of attention lately from the press, and from many accounts in this same vehicle press, they express an enthusiasm for the wagon layout of vehicles. Porsche, to their credit, have also moved into this space, although the Panamera wagon (and saloon sibling) are not particularly inexpensive, even for Porsches. But imagine a Lamborghini wagon, instead of the Urus.
Audi are also in this segment, but the estate versions of their vehicles seem to be considered almost a small niche. Anecdotally, I see very few Avant wagons when compared to the sedans. I am apprehensive to suggest that the wagon is where people who are bored of SUVs will flee.
Years ago, when faced with slowing sales, local manufacturers in Australia - Mitsubishi, Ford and Holden - unceremoniously axed their wagon models first.
But, I cannot help but feel that the wagon is the natural successor to the SUV. Wagons have all the perks of the SUV, and have none of the quirks that are borne of the higher riding stance. Wagons have the same cargo capacity (in some cases greater), lower drag (helping fuel economy), and far better handling - in my experience.
The only sacrifice to be made by having a wagon over an SUV is with the "commanding driving position", a virtue of the higher seating, which does lend to a "feeling" of safety - albeit at the cost of a higher centre of gravity. In broader market terms, is that "feeling" solely enough to keep consumers with SUVs, in the face of wagon alternatives that can have more features, and in many cases, need fewer dollars?
I am not someone who likes looking into a crystal ball, if not for the muggy visage reflecting back at him, then at least for the fear of being incorrect.
For the moment, it appears that the market love for the SUV is not yet dwindling, at least according to sales figures compiled by the Australian Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). Overall, in 2019, sales for vehicles are softening somewhat, although the highest selling models are in the light commercial segment, consisting mostly of Ford Rangers, Toyota Hiluxes, and in September 2019, Mitsubishi Tritons.
Wait a minute. Light commerical vehicles? Room to carry cargo? Room in the back for a family? High commanding driving position? Steady sales?
Oh dear. You know what this means could be the successor to the SUV, right?
And I am not entirely sure I like where the truck is going, and I might actually prefer where the truck has been.