Trend towards smaller SUV’s as car makers react to criticism

By Thomas Geiger, DPA

Frankfurt : Car makers are building a range of mini SUVs (sports utility vehicles) in apparent reaction to growing criticism that 4x4s are too heavy and thirsty for driving conditions in big cities.

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"The big and heavy 4×4 is no longer in. The SUV is shrinking to the size of the average compact class with less consumption, emission and space and thus becoming more socially acceptable," says Nick Margetts of the Jato Dynamics research institute.

However, demand for SUVs worldwide remains fairly strong with Henner Lehne from the CSM market research institute near Frankfurt estimating that there will be about 11 million new SUV registrations worldwide by 2010.

The trend towards Mini SUVs can be especially seen with the new Volkswagen Tiguan that will celebrate its world premiere at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September and go on sale shortly afterwards.

The Tiguan is no great surprise because the first concept car was presented at the Los Angeles Motor Show last year, giving a clear indication of the serial model.

But Audi is also working on a smaller version of the Q7, which is going into serial production as the Q5 next year, according to Audi spokesman Jochen Grueten.

But the chances of the compact Cross Coupe Quattro going into production are not bad either, according to company sources. The concept study was showcased at the Shanghai Motor Show earlier this year.

Other VW subsidiary companies like Seat and Skoda are planning even smaller SUVs. Skoda will probably produce the Yeti in the format of the Roomster. Seat will this year start selling its Altea Freetrack SUV van.

Porsche is also looking at building a smaller version of the Cayenne, although the company has denied the speculation, according to German press reports.

Mercedes-Benz has meanwhile confirmed that it is building a smaller version of the M-Class that will be on sale from next year under the GLK label on the technical basis of the C-Class.

Volvo has announced that it will put the Detroit study XC60 into serial production "by the end of the decade".

Opel/Vauxhall has scheduled production of a smaller version of the Antara on the basis of the Corsa and Ford is working on a compact SUV based on the Losis X seen at the Paris Motor Show.

All these new SUVs have in common in that the design is a clear move away from classic SUV.

"They have a clean-shaped sporty design, away from the sharp-edged utility vehicles in the form of a Land Rover Defender of Jeep Wrangler," says market analyst Nick Margetts.

"All the cars however offer the typical aspects appreciated by SUV buyers in that the driver has a high-seating position which gives a feeling of safety," according to Margetts.

But some of the SUVs are holding onto the sharp-edged box-shaped tradition. Jeep is planning to offer European buyers the Patriot – a more rugged rough-road version of the Compass.

Nissan has just released for sale the new X-Trail, which is bigger than the old version but has virtually the same exterior appearance.

But says German product manager: "If our customers had been asked, nothing should have been changed on the car."