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SUV, the mechanics stop (a little)

 Too polluting, urban 4 × 4 are under attack in order.  On the manufacturers' side, their trivialization and their virtual monopoly are starting to raise questions.  The end of the goose that lays golden eggs?


Haro on the SUV!  It’s not the first salvo the sport utility vehicle has to wipe, but this time the fire is heavy.  Hostilities took a symbolic turn when, in September, environmental activists disrupted the Frankfurt Motor Show, the sanctuary of the German automobile, to protest against the environmental toll of these cars consecrated as "urban tanks".  A little later a cargo ship carrying a cargo of SUVs was targeted in the port of Bremerhaven by Greenpeace with a banner proclaiming "climate killer on board".  The hallali was struck by a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) accusing urban 4 × 4 to ruin the progress made thanks to the efforts to electrify the automobile and to constitute the second source of  increase in carbon dioxide emissions between 2010 and 2018. Close the ban.

 We will see more and more these "fake 4 × 4" adopt the profile of a coupe, transform into a convertible or stretch their silhouette to the point of resembling a sportswoman high on wheels.

 The manufacturers assert that these attacks are not formalized because they have had no effect on sales, which continue to soar.  Their share in registrations has more than doubled since the beginning of the decade, from 18% to 40% and the product plan of each brand is full of them.  Even Aston Martin and Alpine are about to succumb.  Buyers appreciate their silhouette, their interior volume and their versatility.  Buyers are not outdone;  the studies converge to highlight the attraction that they exert on women, sensitive to the fact of being installed in height and the feeling of safety which that gets.  This appetite is stimulated by an overabundant offer;  there are big but also means and more and more small SUV, vehicles hardly more expensive to manufacture than a sedan but otherwise more profitable.

 With some manufacturers, however, doubt is beginning to arise.  Even more than the effects of the "bashing SUV", the architectural constraints imposed by these models, the risk of trivialization but also certain generational phenomena could gradually undermine the foundations of this insolent success.  At the end of October, the specialized media Automotive News quoted Nissan executives asserting that their investigations revealed that part of the customers "began to tire" of the SUVs.  "I would not be surprised to see a return of compact sedans," said Hakan Samuelsson, owner of Volvo.

 A guilt complex

 Asked by us, Laurent Blanchet, product manager at Peugeot, developed a convergent analysis.  "We have been recording weak signals for some time that we take very seriously," he says.  Clinics show that these closed-door interviews with consumers who are representative of the clientele, which may well resemble the beginnings of a guilt complex.  “Up to now, notes the Peugeot range manager, appreciating the SUVs has been obvious;  but today, customers are starting to enter into a logic of justification, they are looking for arguments to legitimize a choice that no longer seems so self-evident.  As if it were about exonerating yourself.

 However, the manufacturers whose profitability is undermined by the obligation to bring their range to environmental standards did not wait to preserve the appeal of the SUV, their goose that lays the golden eggs, of which they have taken advantage of the amazing  ability to adapt.  This is how we saw and we will see more and more "fake 4 × 4" adopt the profile of a coupe, transform into a convertible or stretch their silhouette to the point of looking like a sportswoman  high on wheels.  These Darwinian efforts, however, face three major obstacles.

 The first is the trivialization syndrome.  An SUV, even if you cross it with another automobile species, remains an increasingly common object.  On all world markets, it weighs almost half of the registrations, sometimes more like in the United States.  These models, which appeared to meet a demand for differentiation, can claim less and less of this specificity.  In addition, the movement of convergence of styles - even, sometimes, of panurgism in terms of design - does not encourage diversity.

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 The second problem is inherent in the very configuration of these vehicles which, although not always much heavier than the others, generate higher air resistance.  "However, recalls Jean-Michel Prillieux, analyst at Inovev, the electrification of the ranges does not agree well with poorly aerodynamic vehicles whose autonomy will be degraded.  This may well affect the distribution of SUVs in the coming years.  This is, for example, the reason why Land Rover, the historic specialist in the 4 × 4, will launch in 2021 or 2022 an all-electric model which should strangely resemble a sedan.

 Finally, the SUV, whose planetary success took shape in the early 2000s, already appears to be generously dated, like the minivan in its time.  In the studies mentioned by Nissan or Volvo, the consumers most reserved for it are recruited especially from those under 40 years of age.  "My intuition is that, in a few years, today’s 20-30 year olds will associate the SUV with Dad’s car," assures Laurent Blanchet.  They will then turn to cars with a different morphology, in particular the sedans but, to make them their own, the low cars of tomorrow will have to evolve and avoid falling into the all-purpose style.  On the contrary, it will be necessary to cultivate a wow effect!  "

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