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Archive for Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Automakers shift focus from SUVs to crossovers

January 10, 2006

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— Dampened by high gasoline prices, the auto industry has faced tough times selling large sport utility vehicles lately. But with demand still high from families wanting plenty of space, carmakers may have an antidote: the crossover.

Crossovers such as the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, built on car platforms that give motorists more of a car-like ride, are expected to outsell traditional SUVs in 2006 for the first time.

Automakers are touting several new designs of the models, called CUVs, at the North American International Auto Show. The Detroit showcase started media previews Sunday and opens to the public Saturday.

Dealerships are expected to have plenty to offer in the crossover market in 2006, with about 50 models available, analysts said. That's up from 41 last year and just more than a dozen in 2000.

"It's the sedan of the next decade," said Michael Robinet, an auto analyst with CSM Worldwide.

Ford Motor Co. unveiled the 2007 Edge on Sunday, offering a vehicle it said would "shake up" the crossover market.

The Edge boasts performance with a 250-horsepower V-6 engine and is expected to attract fuel-conscious consumers with miles per gallon in the mid-20s for highway driving.

Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said the Edge would arrive in showrooms next fall.

On Monday, the Ford division that produces the Lincoln Town Car and the Navigator unveiled the Lincoln MKX luxury crossover. The letters stand for and are pronounced Mark X. The vehicle is slated to go on sale in late 2006.

Hyundai Motor Co. showcased its all-new Santa Fe, an update of the sport utility vehicle model first introduced in 2000. The automaker said it took cues from luxury crossovers such as the Lexus RX, Acura MDX and Volvo XC90.

Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Massachusetts-based Global Insight, said that for crossovers the "timing is perfect because people are so sensitive to gas prices but they don't want to give up the utility.

"We don't see Americans - Americans specifically - going back to small cars."

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