Published on May 17th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley


Why Are There So Few EV & Hybrid SUVs & Crossovers?

May 17th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Gas2.

Sales of crossovers are strong. Sales of sedans are weak and getting weaker. In markets all around the world, customers want crossovers and SUVs. So why are so many automakers concentrating their green car efforts on the segment of the market that has the lowest sales?

Kia-Niro-1024x614Blame it on the Toyota Prius, says Automotive News. For the past decade, the Prius has been the poster child for green car technology. It has been so successful, it has spawned several variants — some larger and some smaller, but all more or less sedan based. The Prius in all forms has sold 5.6 million copies worldwide. Those are numbers car companies find hard to ignore. “With what Prius has been able to accomplish over several generations and what we provide with the Ioniq … we just thought that we could pull that off better in a sedan variant vs. a crossover variant,” Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America CEO, says.

There are other factors at work. Crossovers and SUVs tend to heavier than sedans. They are also less aerodynamic, which means it takes more power to push them through the air. Many people thought the Tesla Model 3 would be crossover type vehicle, but it is not. It will be a sedan — at least initially.

Elon Musk pushed his designers to make the car as aerodynamic as possible, and they succeeded. The Model 3 is said to have a Cd of 0.20, which is one of the lowest ever for a production automobile. But that long, sloping roofline — which limits the size of the trunk opening and prevents the car from being a hatchback — is responsible for such aerodynamic efficiency. Sedans are simply the most fuel efficient, so if you want to build a a car that gets great gas mileage, you make it a sedan.

But don’t car companies have to give customers what they want? Hyundai has a Plan B. Its corporate cousin Kia will soon launch the Niro, a crossover hybrid based on the same platform as the Ioniq. If consumers prefer the Kia crossover, the Ioniq could become a crossover. “As a company, we hedged our bets and were evaluating the acceptance of both models,” Zuchowski said. “That’s something we could switch fairly quickly.”

The next generation Honda CR-V is due in showrooms in 2017. It is expected to offer customers the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Toyota began offering a hybrid version of its new RAV4 recently and has been pleasantly surprised at how many customers have chosen that option. Having a plug-in option would give Honda an edge in the crossover market.

Many will be watching to see how the market reacts to the new Chrysler plug-in hybrid Pacifica van. I say it is going to be far more popular than Chrysler expects. My colleague Jo Borras disagrees. One of us is right.

Photo credit: Kia

Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter. "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." Elie Wiesel

  • Shane 2

    “But that long, sloping roofline — which limits the size of the trunk opening and prevents the car from being a hatchback — is responsible for such aerodynamic efficiency.”
    I can imagine a hatch with the same external shape. It might be expensive to build. That would be the reason for not having a hatch.

  • John Richards

    Us older athletes lose our knees after a while; I want a commute car that sits higher than the usual sedan. Give this thing AWD, make sure it has fair pick-up around town, and stays under $30K, & it becomes a major player. Maybe it even keeps me from the Rav4 Hybrid or the Sportage Turbo. The Mazda windshield issues have me spooked, or else the CX-5 would be in the mix. Everything else under $30K (Sportage, Rav4, Forrester, low and mid trims) seems underpowered & a little boring anyway (the base v6 Sorento excepted, but the tech safety pkg will put you over.) My list only includes cars of above average reliability (a guess with these new KIAs), otherwise there’d be a Ford on the list too.

  • abragan

    No mention of the Toyota RAV4 hybrid?

  • Brooks Bridges

    I have to think the SUV thing is largely peer pressure (unconscious) and advertising. But it’s also a reality at present. I’m convinced few people “need” them.

    When we were looking for a used Prius, one owner, who ran a small business involving carrying around lots of stuff, was downright evangelistic in her praise for the carrying capacity of her Prius. Having bought one, I totally agree. Lay those rear seats down and it’s huge.

    I doubt seriously (but have never compared measurements) if many CUV’s actually have significantly more capacity or rear seat leg room.

    I suspect that’s one characteristic that accounts for success of such an odd looking car – that and its exceptional gas mileage when introduced.

    It’s not quite a hatchback nor is it a sedan. Wish Tesla could have designed similar body type that was gorgeous for model 3.

  • Adrian

    The cynic in me says that SUVs and CUVs have very good profit margins, and offering a hybrid, PHEV or BEV version would cut into overall automaker profits if they accidentally became popular…

    Ditto for pickup trucks.

    Below $100/kWh the calculus will change.

  • Steve Grinwis

    Your initial assertion appears to be false. Cars sold 600k units in April, vs 400k cross-overs.

    While cross-overs are gaining, it’ll take a few more years for them to even catch-up…

  • GearsOfWoe

    I think that the advertising betrays the manufacturer’s assumptions. Sedans are city cars while SUVs are for the the outdoors. Current EVs can’t handle those duties so no sense disappointing their customers with a battery electric SUV that doesn’t perform. Even the CUV is expected to handle some off-road trekking despite it usually being built on a sedan platform. In terms of EVs, they are managing their customers expectations. Hence the hatchbacks like the LEAF, Soul EV and Bolt (?). They are comparable in size, passenger room and storage capacity to a CUV like the CX-3, HR-V, Outlander Sport (RVR in Canada). But no one would expect to take the LEAF on a backwoods adventure. Personally, I doubt that many CUVs ever leave the city or exercise their AWD. They are perfect for older guys like me who want the comfort of a high riding vehicle. So, I disagree with the premise of the article. You can get a battery electric crossover vehicle. It’s called a hatchback!

  • Eric Lukac-Kuruc

    BMW brings X3, X5, and X6 hybrid SUVs. In the European market at least, it will have the unavoidable effect of forcing all their competitors to follow.

    • eveee

      Lets hope so. The Volvo C90 and Mitsubishi outlander have been very successful.

  • eveee

    Could we summarize by saying because SUVs are designed to be inefficient?

    • Brent Jatko

      That, plus the paranoia, irrational perception of risk, and the “siege culture” of Americans (see super390’s comment above).

      • eveee

        Very prescient. Americans are fear based. Thats what the movie violence is all about. Fantasy superpower characters that can defend themselves against everything and are invulnerable unlike the huddling, shivering masses.

        Thats the urge behind the my trucks bigger than yours mentality. Fortress on wheels.

  • Mike Dill

    I think that sales of the Model X going forward will awaken some of the other car companies to the fact that EV SUV’s can sell. It may take a SUV version of the Model 3, at a lower price point for a few of them to finally realize this.

    My guess is that we see a SUV Model 3 variant by 2020.

    • Greg Hudson

      The Model 3 SUV (Model Y?) is the vehicle I’m waiting for. Being old(er) and having knees that have had 40 years of skiing punishment placed on them, I NEED the extra height of a CUV / SUV. If the 3 had been a Y I would have put down my deposit. Having owned 2 Subaru Foresters, I can attest to the safety factor of full time 4 wheel drive. Great in the wet, mud or snow. IMO all cars should have it.

      • Brent Jatko

        All Subarus have it already, correct?

        • Greg Hudson

          Yes, all ‘newer’ (less than 10 years old) subarus have all wheel drive (as far as I know). Even older ones may have it too – but I haven’t owned any older than 10 years, so I’m not 100% sure.

          There is one exception that I know of, and that is the Subaru BRZ / Toyota 86 sports car/coupe collaboration… this one is rear wheel drive only.

  • super390

    The Mercedes Boxfish concept was the only CUV-like shape that could get the job done aerodynamically.
    But what we’re up against is how much the culture of CUVs and SUVs are tied to the culture of big trucks. If so, then all this is hopeless because trucks aren’t just about being enormous, but being loud, all in the name of intimidation. To put it in the most grossly stereotypical way, men buy monster trucks to intimidate the world (and use utility as an excuse) but then men and women feel threatened by their neighbors (and by stereotypes about other races) and get the SUVs as mobile fortresses to protect themselves from everybody. As the French consultant who helped Ford design its first big SUVs advised, “If you put a machine gun on top it will sell better.” How else to explain SUV names like “Enclave” and “Armada” and “Escalade”?
    Now if noise is a necessary ingredient, hybrids might be enough because at least they have a great big noisemaker in them. But EVs and FCEVs won’t succeed.

  • Paul Govan

    Come on Steve – carmakers don’t want to have EV’s appeal to their core combustion male chromosome customer base: SUVs and crossovers are for proper wannabe or Walter Mitty macho males – but EV’s are for techies, trekkies, undersexed eco-warriors, girlie men and literally girls – right ?

    Tongue at least half-in-cheek obviously – but carmakers are still determined to perpetuate the usual EV-segregating stereotypes especially in the genuinely disruptive “affordable long-range” category.
    Yema in semi-communist China understand this and are currently testing an affordable 300-500 km/charge SUV Crossover – the EV500 – in a joint effort with MLCA’s Italian-in-exile Dr. Marco Loglio(ex-ThunderSky VP)

    Paul G Editor www_EVUK_co_uk

  • Freddy D

    Virtually all the incentives and quotas for zero emissions vehicles are unit based and can be met by less expensive very small cars like LEAF, 500e, focus, Prius, etc with smaller batteries. What if quotas requires some from each category, like small SUVs, big SUVs, pickups, etc? The market would look very different.

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