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Small SUVs, a Surprise Hit, Outpace U.S. Car Market

Small SUVs, a Surprise Hit, Outpace U.S. Car Market

By Philly Murtha, October 22, 2015

Demand for a newer breed of SUVs, budget-friendly small or subcompact SUVs, dramatically outpaced the U.S. auto industry in September and through the first 9 months of 2015. September sales surged 77.3% from a year ago, according to sales data collected by J.D. Power and auto forecasting partner LMC Automotive.


Interest in this below-the-radar category of sport utilities is mainly due to quirky or distinctive styling, fuel economy—often averaging 35 mpg on the highway—and lower starting MSRPs (as low as $18,000-$22,000). Additionally, there is a broad range of 15 model choices. Just this year, five entries were added by four brands to attract consumers, and there are likely more to come.


Numerous standard and optional features, including connectivity, infotainment systems, navigation, and the latest safety systems, also boost the attractiveness of these vehicles for savvy buyers who want affordability and a vehicle that can seat up to five occupants.


Through the first 9 months of 2015, this flourishing segment, which slots below compact SUVs, achieved a sales gain of more than 43% from a year ago. Sales climbed by 160,000 units to 530,933 year to date. Market share rose to 4.1% vs. 3% a year ago.


A few more highlights:


  • Some 15 small SUV models from more than a dozen brands are available. The five new models—Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500x, and Mazda CX-3—bolstered segment sales by 114,600 units year to date.


  • Three of the 15 small sport utilities are from the Jeep brand. The Patriot, built on the same platform as the Jeep Compass, is the segment sales leader, boasting one of the lowest starting MSRPs at $17,890. Jeep’s three small SUV models garnered nearly one-third of segment sales year to date. Renegade, the newest member of the group, has Jeep off-road looks but is built in Italy on a platform shared with Fiat’s 500L.


  • Subaru introduced its first all-wheel-drive (AWD) small SUV in 2014. The XV Crosstrek, which gets kudos for handling and fuel economy, shares its architecture with Subaru’s Impreza compact car. A hybrid version also is available.


  • Redesigns add interest this year. Hyundai’s Tucson has been redone and its corporate mate, the Kia Sportage, also is new for 2016. In 2015, both were among the three highest-ranked models in their segment in initial quality and reliability in J.D. Power customer satisfaction studies.


  • Two models that lost sales this year were strong sellers when the segment was new. The Nissan Juke was among the earliest small utilities to gain popularity when introduced in 2011. The Mini Countryman, launched in 2010 and refreshed in 2014, ranked as the most appealing small SUV with respondents in the 2015 U.S. APEAL Study.


  • The new Chevrolet Trax follows on the heels of the popular, more upscale Buick Encore, which has a base MSRP of slightly more than $24,000. The Encore and the new Trax are both built in South Korea on the same platform as the Chevrolet Sonic and Spark. The Encore was Buick’s best-selling model year to date and also ranks among the top three models in its segment in both initial quality and vehicle appeal this year.


  • Honda’s 2016 HR-V, which is built on the same platform as the Fit subcompact car, was another one of the new entries in the segment with a starting MSRP under $20,000.


  • Not to be outdone by competitors, Mazda introduced its CX-3 subcompact crossover sport utility, which is built on a stretched version of the platform for the next-generation Mazda 2. It has a base MSRP of near $20,000.


  • Volkswagen’s Tiguan, essentially a GTI that’s been raised a few inches, is offered at a slightly higher starting MSRP of just under $25,000. Sales through September were up in double digits. The Tiguan offers one engine choice: a turbocharged gasoline 4-cylinder.




Small SUV Models



YTD Sales-2015



YTD Sales-2014



% Change

Jeep Patriot




Subaru XV Crosstrek




Buick Encore




Jeep Compass




Chevrolet Trax



New model

Hyundai Tucson




Kia Sportage




Jeep Renegade



New Model

Honda HR-V



New Model

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport




Volkswagen Tiguan




Nissan Juke




Mini Countryman




Fiat 500x



New Model

Mazda CX-3



New Model


Source: J.D. Power and LMC Automotive

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