Eight great crossovers: a new breed of car
Drivers are increasingly snapping up the part-car, part-SUV models. Here are the automakers' latest rides.
New York (CNNMoney.com) -- When Toyota introduced the car-based crossover in 1996, it created the "vehicle category that ate everything."
Crossovers, or car-based SUVs (CUVs), offer better fuel economy, ride quality and handling than truck-based SUVs. More and more car buyers are trading in their SUVs for crossovers, according to data from the Power Information Network, which tracks car sales.
SUVs of any kind are more emotionally appealing than minivans, so the number of people switching from minivans to CUVs has also increased steadily, according to PIN data.
And even the trendiest station wagons, like the macho-looking Dodge Magnum from DaimlerChrysler (Charts), have been suffering in sales as more buyers turn to CUVs. (For its part, the Dodge brand has no true CUVs. The new Nitro, which looks like a CUV, is based on the underpinnings of the Jeep Liberty SUV.)
In each case, what buyers are seeing is a vehicle that offers some of the style and benefits of a truck-based SUV while mitigating the downsides.
Since they don't have the heavy frame of a truck, CUVs can't haul and tow as much as a truck-based SUV. But CUVs are much lighter, therefore more economical and easier to manage.
"I don't think most people really understand the car-based, truck-based concept," said Mark McCready, director of pricing for the online auto seller Carsdirect.com.
But that doesn't matter, he said, as long as customers understand the benefits the vehicle offers and don't care much about towing capacity.
So, as they look for alternatives, more buyers are landing on a vehicle that looks like a truck but has the bones, muscles and guts of a car. Some, like the Chrysler Pacifica and Ford Freestyle, are genuinely difficult to classify, even based on appearances, as either a car or SUV.
Overall, sales of CUVs are up 17 percent so far this year compared to last year, according to PIN data.
Higher gasoline costs were also a major concern driving the push toward crossovers.
"A lot of people early in the year were really reassessing their vehicle size needs," said McCready.
Now all the major automakers are scrambling to grab a bigger piece of this growing market, just as they did with SUVs years ago.
The current most popular CUV models have all recently been redesigned, as car companies deal with an increasingly competitive crossover market. A new, larger Toyota (Charts) Rav4, with additional optional seating, was introduced last year.
With its slick, modern design, the Edge could be a viable competitor in the segment. It's a key item for Ford, which badly needs another hit car.
"The Edge has the chance to take some market share back," said Jack Nerad, managing editor of Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com Web site.
The Edge is the first CUV from Ford with the sloped, rounded look of a car. It's a style that's worked for Nissan, with its Murano and Infiniti FX CUVs.
For its part, General Motors (Charts) is introducing three new crossovers that offer seating for up to eight passengers. The Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave will be based on the same vehicle platform, but this time they will have distinctly different styles.
The crossover segment has spread out to cover more sizes and styles, with vehicles becoming harder and harder to categorize. All of which increases the chances that, somewhere out there, there's a vehicle that's right for you. And it won't be an SUV, minivan or station wagon.
In our gallery, we will look at eight new entries that will be reshaping this part of the market in the coming year.
Gallery: Eight key crossovers