For SUVs and EVs, subtlety is out and the nature of plunder is in
Here in America, we love our juicy steaks, our tax subsidies for going to sports stadiums, and our SUVs and crossovers to look like they could venture out into the wild and dominate the landscape at any time.
Perhaps it’s the anxiety of years of being cooped up indoors at the height of the global pandemic. Or maybe it’s just more automakers desperate to follow Subaru’s skyrocketing sales success. Either way, automakers want to exploit this lucrative 21st century version of Manifest Destiny.
The trend was on display at the 2023 New York International Auto Show, where the show floor was strewn with crossovers and SUVs that look tough, tough and ready to go all-terrain – even though the vast majority of these vehicles never will.
Body cladding, increased ride heights, maybe off-road gimmicks and adventurous-sounding names (TrailSport! Wilderness! Peak Edition!) were all hallmarks of an otherwise auto show greatly diminished in the Big Apple. This was even true for electric vehicles, which played a bigger role than ever at this show. With debuts like the big three-row Kia EV9 and the hulking Ram 1500 Rev, it’s proof that EV racing will also be a contest of trucks and SUVs.
Some of the vehicles on display were new debuts, such as the all-new 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness. This is a new trim level that builds on the resounding success of the Crosstrek (now in its third generation) and Wilderness trims. on the Outback and the Forester. The latter two, which debuted in 2021 as 2022 models, have been big hits for Subaru.
“Since we launched the Wilderness range a year and a half ago, we have sold 75,000 Wilderness products with Outback and Forester at a time when we were limited by supply chain issues,” said Today Subaru spokesperson Dominick Infante to TechCrunch.
He added: “And to be honest, we are following the lead of our customers. They have been customizing their Crosstreks with risers and more aggressive tires for years.
Now the little Crosstrek also gets the same treatment, with 9.3 inches of ground clearance (more than half an inch over the regular Crosstrek), larger coil springs and shocks, approach angles and wider departures for off-roading and various traction modes to better handle snow, mud and dirt. It starts at $31,995, a nice increase over the $23,645 base Crosstrek.
The opportunity to increase profit margins with a bit of coating and a lift may be why other automakers are continuing this trend. American consumers have long demanded the attributes of toughness and off-road capability from their SUVs, even though many of them were just car-based crossovers that felt tough but couldn’t back it up in the end. of the road.
The focus on SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks comes as no surprise. The US auto market has shifted dramatically away from sedans and small cars over the past decade, and automakers have responded accordingly. Data from the International Energy Agency shows that even amid sales woes from the pandemic-induced chip shortage, SUV sales are on the rise globally. This is not necessarily good news for the climate, as these larger and heavier vehicles are still responsible for more carbon emissions than smaller ones.
But the New York Auto Show proved just how incongruous it all seems. As automakers pledge to electrify their fleets and reduce their overall carbon footprint, they’re paying for it by selling big trucks and SUVs designed to conquer nature. Or at least look the part. And while it’s true that modern ICE cars are more efficient than ever before and have more electrified options, the path to “going green” is through big vehicles with big bluster.
Jeep, of course, has a major show presence this year, showcasing the updated 2024 Wrangler with several new trim levels. Wrangler sales have exploded in recent years, and the Wrangler 4xe is also the best-selling plug-in hybrid car in the United States. it says a lot about our love of outdoor exploration, or at least how we look.
To be fair, Wrangler owners are definitely more interested in off-roading than most. And the Jeep Wrangler and Subaru Crosstrek can more than take care of themselves when the pavement gets dodgy.
For others, it’s more about making it look like they can do it than anything else.
Take the 2024 Volkswagen Atlas Peak Edition, a trim level that debuted at the New York show. It’s a robust visual update for VW’s mid-size family crossover, which has been on the market since 2017.
VW seems to be clearly running the Subaru playbook here: it has what the automaker calls a more “heavy-duty” front fascia, black 18-inch wheels, off-road tires and orange “Peak Edition” badging on the back. inside and outside. VW introduced a concept called “Basecamp” in 2019 and later turned that name into an accessory package that inspired the Peak Edition, but make no mistake: this Atlas won’t be climbing many peaks anytime soon because it this is only an appearance set.
Or take the Honda Pilot and Passport in TrailSport trim. None of these debuted in New York, but the cars are on stage to appeal to buyers who demand a little more ruggedness (or the looks of it.) Only one of them, the Pilot, gets a lifted suspension; Car and Driver calls these packages “mostly theater.”
But to the crossover shopper who sees them inside New York’s Javits Center amid various Jeeps, Ford Broncos and Subarus, they seem to fit right in. There’s a reason all of these automakers keep doing it: it seems to work. And while it’s easy to scoff at a crossover that looks built for the apocalypse but is more at home in an outdoor mall than it is, we still buy them. And we should expect to see more.
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