JUST as so-called sports utility vehicles have rampaged global private vehicle sales, the reign of crossovers and soft-roaders could come to an end with a return to more conventional passenger vehicles, says General Motors head of vehicle design Mike Simcoe.
While the rise of SUVs globally appears to be unstoppable – and certainly in Australia’s market where the high-riders overtook sales of passenger vehicles this year – GM’s top designer predicts ever shifting market influences could topple the domination.
Speaking to Wheels at the Los Angeles motor show, Simcoe said any number of environmental, government or attitude changes could shift buyer behaviour on its axis and away from SUVs, including the inevitable move to electrified vehicles.
“People are looking for something that’s practical, got space, they’re comfortable to get in and out of,” he said. “When the road is full of tall vehicles, you don’t want to be the one that’s sitting real low because it gets uncomfortable. There’s an ubiquitous move to taller vehicles.
“But I think there’s still room and there will be room, particularly in our electrified future to make sedans. As the market changes, it’s going to be affected by electrification. There’s going to be a move back to the more traditional sedans and hatches all the way through to tall SUV-like vehicles.”
As manufacturers focus on increasing electrified vehicle range and dissolving so-called customer ‘range anxiety’ increasing efficiency is becoming more important to the success of EVs and that could steer buyers away from high-drag SUVs, said Simcoe.
“If you think about a long sedan vehicle, it’s a lot more efficient aerodynamically than a tall hatch.”
In the meantime, Simcoe said a smaller but significant buyer shift will see increasing sales of ‘CUVs’ - vehicles which offer similar elevated driving position, but with a more car-like ownership experience.
“The market change in SUVs is happening now, we’re also seeing a move to what we’re now terming CUVs, which is higher seating position, little bit more command of the road but not quite as tall in profile as an SUV.”
While it would appear customers are talking with their wallets and buying vehicles that are in highest demand, Simcoe explained satisfying customers and creating successful vehicles was only possible through two-way communication.
“The industry has always been about us delivering something the customers get passionately engaged with, and if we do it in a way that gets people’s attention and makes them want to buy then we see a move.
“We can’t apply rules to customers because there is a chicken and egg thing. Is the customer leading us to a place or is the customer telling us what they want and we have to present it in a way that they like?”
Instead, Simcoe said if a shift away from SUVs was ever to happen it would be the result of customers demonstrating a clear need and car makers responding with the refined models to meet demand.
“I’d prefer to see the customer allowing us to acknowledge what they want and serving them but we have an opinion about how we deliver that.
“We know what customers want but it would be presumptuous for us to guess for them so we do research. By the same token you wouldn’t ask a customer to define exactly what that interpretation should be. That’s our job.”