First, it was the wagon. Then the minivan. Now the three-row crossover is America’s family hauler of choice. No news there. But what is noteworthy is that this three-row segment, which also includes full-size SUVs such as the Lincoln Navigator and Chevy Suburban, accounted for nearly one in every four new vehicle purchases in 2018.
And it’s only getting larger for 2020. Take that, minivan.
“It’s an expanding segment that is highly profitable,” said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds.com. “They’ve gotten massive buy-ins from automakers.”
Hyundai, Kia, Lincoln, Cadillac and BMW all are rolling out new three-rows for 2020. Ford and Toyota are redesigning the Explorer and Highlander, respectively. There are so many crossovers it almost feels as if automakers are throwing noodles at the wall to see what sticks.
“Except the whole wall is the target, and you can’t miss,” Acevedo said, half-joking.
When crossovers became the dominant choice for Americans in 2016, it was fueled by huge growth in small crossovers, which now claim 22.4 percent market share, up 2 percent from 2017, according to data from Edmunds.com.
Yet it is the family haulers — midsize crossovers and full-size SUVs, accounting for 24.2 percent of the market — that are hauling in big profits for automakers. (We’re using the term crossover interchangeably with SUV, even though crossover is more accurate, despite marketing to the contrary. Only truck-based vehicles are SUVs.)
“SUVs come with a higher price tag, and buyers aren’t as price-conscious as the compact crossover segment,” Acevedo said. “These are priced well over industry average.”
The average transaction price for the segment is $43,131, which is over $7,000 more than the average car price ($35,972), and over $12,000 more than the average cost of the small crossover ($30,844).
But it was the compact crossovers that kindled the craze in the first place and that are driving buyers into the next model up. Together, the crossover segment is expected to comprise 50 percent of all new vehicle sales in 2019.
“The same shoppers are growing in income or life stages to dictate that jump to the next size,” Acevedo said. “There are also more compelling offerings as automakers cover all their bases for that loyalty play, like Subaru.”
Subaru’s enviable growth has come on the back of its small crossovers Crosstrek, Outback and Forester. Since the cramped Tribeca was discontinued after 2014, Subaru didn’t have a proper three-row to keep customers in love with the brand. Until the luxury-leaning 2019 Subaru Ascent.
Such was also the case with Volkswagen, which launched the excellent 2018 Atlas.
Both models benefited from the faults of their predecessors and learned from the competition, earning best-of accolades from most outlets, including this one. More importantly, those models attracted shoppers from other brands.
This is a lesson Lincoln and Cadillac might be learning too late.
“Domestic automakers got caught flat-footed,” Acevedo added. “Europeans have trotted out a ton of SUVs, and Lincoln and Caddy had been pioneers in the segment, so they’re finally coming into the game.”
The all-new 2020 Lincoln Aviator will come in six- or seven-seat configurations. Based on the Chicago-built Ford Explorer, this luxury liner with available 30-way power-adjustable seats and a new 12.3 inch touch screen will be powered by either a 400 horsepower turbocharged V-6 with 10-speed transmission or a 450-horsepower plug-in hybrid capable of 600 pound-feet of torque.