Auto show 2013: Year of the sleek SUV crossover

By: Robert Guttersohn | C&G Newspapers | Published January 22, 2013

 Cars line up outside of Cobo Center Jan. 14 for the media preview of the North American International Auto Show. Several car manufactures revealed SUV crossover concepts during the auto show.

Cars line up outside of Cobo Center Jan. 14 for the media preview of the North American International Auto Show. Several car manufactures revealed SUV crossover concepts during the auto show.

Photo by Deb Jacques

DETROIT — Fueled by continuing consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States, several auto companies used the 2013 North American International Auto Show to showcase smaller and sleeker SUVs and crossover vehicles.

From the high-end to middle-class market brands, manufacturers showed signs of appealing to the 21st-century family that is downsizing from the large SUVs and minivans of the previous two decades.

“We’re clearly seeing trends where customers are moving from larger utility vehicles into what’s right for them,” said Mike Murphy, global cars and crossover market manager for Ford Motor Company.

He said the No. 1 reason for the change is fuel economy. “Small cars and crossovers are continuing to grow,” Murphy said. “It is over half the industry today.”

While revealing Volkswagen’s SUV crossover concept, the CrossBlue, Ulrich Hackenburg, chief of development for the German auto manufacturer, told the media that the market for mid-size SUVs is predicated to increase more than 20 percent by 2021.

“We have designed the CrossBlue as an answer to that trend,” Hackenburg said.

The CrossBlue is designed to seat seven passengers and potentially achieve 89 miles per gallon using two electric motors that adapt to different driving conditions.

“Although this is still a concept, this fuel-efficient model gives a realistic glimpse of how we, at Volkswagen, envision our future with the largest-growing car segment in North America,” Hackenburg said.

Honda released its own trimmed-down crossover with the Urban SUV concept vehicle. It measures only 169 inches in length, which is nine inches shorter than the mid-sized Honda CR-V. Although Honda did not release much information on the SUVs specs, the company will be manufacturing the car in Mexico and is aiming for a United States release in 2014.

“I believe the small car is the key to our future,” said Takanobu Ito, president of Honda’s global operations.

Young buyers are looking for efficiency and something fun to drive, said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda.

“We think a small SUV, based on this concept, will be especially popular with active-lifestyle customers living in urban areas who also need a capable vehicle for fun weekends out,” Mendel said.

Even luxury brands released crossover SUV concepts. Lincoln touted its MKC crossover concept vehicle as its entry into the auto industry’s fast-growing segment.

“The reason we are really focusing on the smaller-sized vehicle is because consumers — especially through this last recession worldwide — they really want luxury in the smaller vehicles, and they want better value from them,” said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally.

Mulally said the MKC concept telegraphs the direction in which Ford intends to take Lincoln.

The 2013 Ford Escape, released last summer, may be the catalyst for the change, after its sales increased last year from its 2012 model.

Murphy said the Ford Escape — which lost its traditional, boxy SUV design from 2012 to a more aerodynamic, fuel-efficient 2013 model — is reclaiming its current buyers while also adopting customers interested in downgrading in size, Murphy said.

“We are able to attract a whole new type of customer: one that is moving down from premium vehicles and full-size SUVs,” Murphy said of the Escape.

He thinks it will stay that way as long as fuel economy remains the No. 1 purchase reason for consumers.