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Automakers reset product plans for new crossover, SUVs

The increasing shift among U.S. consumers from cars to crossovers drove Nissan’s decision to bring the Rogue Sport to America. It is sold as the Qashqai in other markets and is a top-seller for Nissan.

Automakers are reworking their product strategies and investments in some markets to bring more crossovers and SUVs to showrooms amid a sharp turn away from small and midsize cars, executives at Detroit’s auto show say. The cars to SUV shift is hitting luxury brands, as well.

Toyota Motor Corporation, Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Volkswagen AG are among those adding more SUVs and crossovers to their product plans, amid forecasts that crossovers, Pick-up trucks and other light trucks could soon make up two-thirds of U.S. light vehicle sales, up from 56% in 2015 and just under 60 percent last year.

In selected markets, sedans are not only losing sales volume, but automakers and dealers are offering bigger discounts to move them out of showrooms, industry executives said while profit margins on crossovers, SUVs and trucks are fatter.

The average incentive for a midsize car in September was 14.1 percent, according to Kelley Blue Book, compared with 7.4 percent for a midsize crossover.

The shift has forced some automakers to slash production capacity dedicated just a few years ago to small cars, and put a new emphasis on designing vehicles and assembly plants that can switch quickly from building cars to SUVs.

Volkswagen’s Audi unit, for example, builds a small Q2 crossover and its A3 sedan on the same assembly line, Dietmar Voggenreiter, head of sales and marketing for Audi, said. “We will always have an SUV and a sedan” on the same production line, he said.

Automakers are bringing crossovers and SUVs into segments that previously were only for cars. A case in point is Nissan Motor Co.’s Rogue Sport, revealed recently at the North American International Auto Show, an Americanized version of the small Qashqai crossover that Nissan has sold for several years in Europe and Asia.

“The increasing shift of cars to crossovers finally drove our decision to bring this [crossover] to the U.S.,” said Michael Bunce, vice president of product strategy for Nissan’s U.S. arm.

The Rogue Sport will be sold alongside the slightly larger Rogue, appealing to consumers who previously would have had only small cars to choose from.

At German luxury automaker BMW last year, about 43 percent of U.S. sales were SUVs. In December, that percentage neared 50, said Ian Robertson, the German luxury brand’s global sales chief.

At Toyota Motor Corp., crossovers, SUVs and trucks will account for about 63 percent of U.S. sales in 2017, said North America CEO Jim Lentz, predicting its RAV4 crossover could top the Camry this year as its best-selling U.S. vehicle.

Honda Motor Co. is working to expand production of crossovers and SUVs for the U.S. market, shifting production of the Acura MDX to a factory in Ohio to make room for additional production of higher volume Pilot SUVs and Ridgeline pickup trucks, CEO Takahiro Hachigo said.




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