2007 Ford Expedition. Click image to enlarge
By Tony Whitney
If there’s one topic that will generate lively conversation – even among SUV owners – it’s the subject of whether full-size SUVs are justifiable in today’s world of high gas prices and environmental awareness.
Of course, the most vocal of the “anti large SUV” group are often those who don’t need one, or perhaps can do without a vehicle of any kind. Because they don’t have a use for one, they tend to believe that those who do shouldn’t be allowed to buy them. It’s a fascinating and controversial topic and opinion seems to be polarized.
Although I’ve never found any reason to buy a full-size SUV myself, I’ve always defended the big rigs because over the years, I’ve known so many people who owned them and really put them to good use. I don’t think I’ve ever met a motorist who purchased an SUV simply because he or she wanted the biggest truck out there. My notion always was that if you had a large family and were lucky enough to own, perhaps, a boat (or other recreational gear) and a cottage, that was a good enough reason to buy a big sport ute.
Understandably, the auto industry provides what it believes the market will buy and I’ve never believed that there was ever any kind of “dark plot” to coax people into bigger vehicles than they really needed. Buyers these days are very research-oriented, use the internet a lot and have countless ways of dicsovering the pros and cons of SUVs of all sizes and configurations.
2007 Ford Expedition
Full-size SUVs tend to sell better in the US than in Canada for various reasons (and Texas is the biggest market in the US). Canadians favour compact SUVs above all others and more than 40 per cent of such vehicles sold in this country fall into the compact category. Both sides of the border have seen some softening of the full-size SUV market, mainly because of changing tastes and high fuel prices. Essentially, the full-size SUV segment remains quite strong and although some models may disappear in time, buyers will always be able to get the big truck of their choice.
Not surprisingly, automakers involved in the full-size SUV segment have done a lot of research to counter criticism of their continued production of these vehicles. Ford Motor Company, which markets its big Expedition SUV, recently announced some findings that point to the fact that “many families really do need a full-size SUV.”
According to Ford, there’s no doubt that changing consumer demographics have seen certain customers leave the full-size SUV segment and switch to crossover or other vehicle types. Even so, a core group of consumers still value the roomy capability available only in a full-size SUV. A rise in three-generation households (a growing trend, by all accounts) and the sales strength of boats and towable RVs indicate a continued need for full-size SUVs.
Ford’s figures indicate that three-generation households are growing considerably and these households are purchasing recreational equipment in increasing quantities. Sales of personal watercraft, for example, grew by 9.2 per cent in North America in 2005 and towable RV sales were up by 5 per cent. Towable RV-owning households are growing by leaps and bounds in North America and the rigs they’re buying are getting larger. Ford points out that more than 40 per cent of Expedition owners tow something with their vehicles on a regular basis. It’s no surprise that the latest (2007) version of the Expedition can tow up to 9,100 pounds.
Ford’s marketing people believe that large families or three-generation families like to travel in their full-size SUVs – possibly with an RV or recreational equipment in tow – without leaving anything behind that might be needed on the trip. This may mean everything from bicycles to camping gear as well as whatever is towed. Also a plus for large families is the fact that the Expedition, and some of its rivals, can seat up to nine people in some comfort.
In recent model years, several automakers have developed full-size SUVs to take on the Ford Expedition and the Chevy Suburban and its derivatives, not to mention the bigger Hummer models. Nissan joined the fray not too long ago with its Armada and Infiniti added its own version of this truck, the QX56. Toyota has marketed its Sequoia for some time now and even German automakers like BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche produce mid-size to large SUVs.
Full-size SUVs may not be part of a booming and expanding market right now, but for the folks that really need one, there is no substitute.