Will crossovers help OEMs solve the SUV conundrum?

  06 October 2019

Hatchback buyers who’ve switched over to SUVs are giving OEMs a headache. From January 2020, corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rules kick in, requiring brands to achieve average CO2 emissions, across their range, of 95g/km.

It’s a huge challenge. Admittedly, calculations will be based on older, more lenient NEDC figures, rather than the tougher WLTP tests that, overnight, made new cars appear on paper much less economical. But that’s scant consolation for car company bosses facing fines of 95 Euros per gram of CO2 over their target – for every single car they sell. It could end up costing billions.

There are workarounds. Zero-emission electric cars for one – in the first couple of years, they get ‘supercredits’, so their impact is magnified further. Plug-in hybrids are beneficial too. This is why you’ve found it tricky to source new EVs up to now, but will soon have them coming out your ears.

But it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for car companies. They’ve known for years that these rules are coming, yet they’ve still willingly fed the insatiable (profitable) demand for SUVs – vehicles which generally produce much higher CO2 than their regular hatchback brethren.

A VW Golf 1.5 TSI EVO emits 115g/km of CO2. A Tiguan with the same engine puts out 131g/km, almost 15% more. And the SUV cork has long left the bottle: JATO predicts that, next year, 1 in 3 new cars sold in Europe will be an SUV.

The answer? A smarter form of SUV, one that costs less, uses less fuel, emits less CO2 and is nicer to drive to boot. Cue the crossover.

The Nissan Qashqai was the original, but the crossover moniker has been forgotten these days, as more rugged 4×4-style SUVs dominate. The original premise was a regular hatchback, jacked up and given beefier body styling. Less weight, better aerodynamics, barely any difference in CO2 and economy than a regular hatch.

This was gradually forgotten though, as car makers instead started with tough 4x4s and work back. A Ford Kuga, a Kia Sportage, a Hyundai Tucson and, indeed a Tiguan, all are SUVs. OEMs have got carried away and their CO2 headaches is the penalty they face.

Which is why the launch of the new Kia Xceed is so noteworthy. Like the Qashqai, this is drawn from a regular hatchback platform, wears a bespoke body, sits higher off the ground than a normal car but doesn’t suffer the excesses of the Sportage.

It works. The basic 1.0 T-GDI Ceed hatch is rated at 122g/km CO2. The entry-level XCeed 1.0-litre? 124g/km. Compare that to the cheapest Sportage, whose NEDC CO2 is way up at 152g/km.

Kia’s not alone. Ford this week announced prices for the Puma SUV, a similarly low-line crossover looking to lure Focus buyers. Same for the Mazda CX-30. More are imminent.

EVs will do the heavy lifting of dragging down CO2 emissions, but don’t underestimate the impact of a 20% fall in CO2 emissions from SUV owners crossing over into crossovers. They’re the answer to the looming CO2 headache OEMs have helped encourage.

Read more: September registrations below expectations

imageTags: CAFE, CO2, crossover, SUV

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