Americans are buying SUVs, crossovers, or whatever one wishes to call them with reckless (for the environment) abandon. Big Three automakers are jettisoning models in other non-truck segments. Even for super niche luxury and sports car brands, the financial future rests on SUV sales.
Rolls Royce debuted the Cullinan. Bentley offers the Bentayga. Lamborghini created the Urus. Former Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne pledged someone would have to shoot him before Ferrari produced an SUV in 2016. The hybrid Purosangue was already in the works before his untimely death last summer. Even freaking Pininfarina is considering making a Crossover-type thing.
Building such vehicles makes financial sense. Many of them are, to be fair, beautiful looking and fun to drive. The trouble is they aren’t SUVs. They are engineered to meet that minimum threshold. But they are SUVs in name only, SUVINOs if you will. They should not have the same moniker as the Jeep Wrangler.
Consider the upcoming Aston Martin DBX or the Jaguar I-Pace. Companies will market both as SUVs. Photographers will capture both “off-roading” through manicured stretches of dust or perched on a “rock formation” a VW Golf could handle. But, look closely. Both are sleek and low to the ground. Both have the barest of distinctions between what are technically C and D pillars. Drop them an inch, put less aggressive tread on the tires, or even just view them head on and you will see hatchbacks.
There’s nothing wrong with hatchbacks. They are practical. They hold lots of stuff. You can get them with AWD for the winter (even if you only need a good set of winter tires). Luxury and sports car brand should make them. There’s no reason for Aston Martin to turn away the customer who needs to drop their kids off at school. But, call them hatchbacks and Americans won’t touch them.
Why they won’t is unclear. Perhaps “commanding ride height” is just that seductive. Maybe we’re just a nation of preppers, preoccupied with the 4-5 days we might need an SUV versus the 360 where owning one is unnecessary. It could be a snowball effect. More SUV/Crossovers on the road means more customers seeking a vehicle that height to see around them. Whatever the reason, that preference seems unlikely to change. Faux-SUVs can be fuel efficient. If customers opt for smaller cars, manufacturers can tempt them with ludicrous compact baby SUVs. Cute little convertible, anyone?
Arguing how the I-Pace would be even more remarkable as a purpose-designed road car is swimming against too strong of a current. But, if we’re going to live in the brave new SUV/Crossover/Whatever reality we need more precise terminology for what is fast becoming the entire non-truck automotive market. Our most gratuitous seven-seater orchestra chiming land-yachts and our sports cars of the future can’t both be “SUVs.”
Terming the road dwelling sportier variants designed for the road “sport activity vehicles” is even less precise. Stop trying to make SAV happen, BMW and others.