Downsizing: Where Have All the Full-Size SUVs Gone?

September 23, 2010

The painful truth is that we all know about downsizing these days, whether it’s cars or houses. But it wasn’t too many years back when bigger was better – again, for both. The collapse of the housing market, massive loss of jobs, and the free-fall of the stock market hit everyone in the wallet, families perhaps most of all. Even so, many of us still clung to our big, all-capable SUVs, hoping against hope that things would change.

We got change, all right – and it wasn’t good.

Gas prices shot up and then down and then back up. Gone are the days of the $1.85 per gallon (in California, that was cheap) gas prices. Welcome to price fluctuation on a roller-coaster basis. American consumers, especially those with families, started to seriously reconsider their choice of replacement vehicle. If gasoline prices, just to cite one example, were going to be so uncertain, who wanted to be saddled with a gas-hungry large SUV? It wasn’t a matter of like anymore, it was necessity. If you’re trading off putting food on the table to fill the tank, guess which one wins?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love big SUVs. Our family has owned or leased Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade models for a number of years. They were perfect for our family needs: fully capable, versatile, comfortable, powerful enough to tow if needed and to haul all the people and stuff we had to cart about. They also got relatively good fuel economy – although we always kept an eye on that cost at the pump. In fact, it got to the point where we didn’t go places simply because it cost too much for fuel.

That’s when we traded down. We didn’t want to, trust me. Economics won out. I suspect it was the same for a lot of families.

Oh, there was a period right around the 2008 elections when there was an influx of big SUVs on the road as automakers and dealers practically gave them away. We were sorely tempted, but resisted. Funny how today there are fewer of them around – at least, it appears that way. But that could be because it’s California, and everyone in the U.S. is well aware of this state’s financial woes (which affect everyone – yup, right in the wallet).

Thank God for the crossovers. Automakers really stepped up their game and consumers are more than just receptive. With the number of crossovers in the market, there’s something for everyone. And it’s not just compact and mid-size crossovers, either. Full-size – yay! – crossovers are more fuel efficient than ever.

They’d better be, since the recently-announced new standards for corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) by 2016 will require an overall average of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) – or 42 mpg for cars (up from 27.5 mpg now) and 26.2 for light trucks (up from about 24 mpg now). The new standards, now that they’ve been established, are good news for everyone: automakers and consumers. It takes time to develop new vehicles, so the graduated increases in fuel economy (and decreases in greenhouse gases) allow car companies to get it in gear to meet the new standards. Consumers can continue to buy what they want – and cars and trucks will be cleaner and more fuel efficient. Best of all, we’ll be reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

But, back to the disappearance (sort of) of big SUVs on America’s highways and byways. Let’s face it. If you have a family of six or seven, you need something that’s adequate to transport them. Two cars just doesn’t get it. Therefore, you either buy a station wagon (even if they’re called something else), a minivan, or an SUV of some size classification.

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