Don’t be surprised when these 3 types of cars flood the market


By: Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press
Get ready for a flood of new vehicles unlike what you’ve seen before as automakers explore three market niches that are primed for growth.
As car companies de-emphasize production of low-profit sedans, at least two new classes of SUV-type vehicles are coming — prestigious midsize and basic transportation.

We may also see the return of compact pickups like the old Chevrolet S-10 and the modest Japanese pickups that helped Toyota and Nissan build their reputation for durable, inexpensive vehicles.

Smokin’ hot SUVs

First up: Five-passenger midsize SUVs that are loaded with style, not extra seats.

Ford and Nissan cottoned on to demand for these models years before other automakers.

The Ford Edge and Nissan Murano set the pace for the class with striking looks, roomy interiors and advanced features. They look good, command top dollar and compete with luxury SUVs like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 for thousands of dollars less.

The 2019 Chevy Blazer that was recently revealed is the first of the new midsize SUVs to break cover. It goes on sale early in 2019.

At least one more will debut from a Japanese competitor later this year, and Hyundai is reworking its Santa Fe family for a ritzier appeal.

The expected boom in these vehicles comes as buyers desert midsize and full-size sedans like the Ford Taurus and Hyundai Sonata.

Those customers want all the latest infotainment and driver assistance features, plus room to carry two couples to dinner comfortably.

Most automakers ignored five-passenger midsize SUVs until recently. They thought the big bucks were in selling six- and seven-passenger family hauling SUVs like Ford Explorer Toyota Highlander.

Those models are beginning to get some of the mom-mobile image that plagues minivans. The up-and-coming status symbol is spending as much or more on a slightly smaller, but really good looking SUV that says you’ve got plans beyond taking the soccer team for ice cream.

Just don’t call it a wagon

Automakers may quit building small, entry-level cars, but the people who bought those inexpensive models will still need transportation.

One answer, small SUV “ish” vehicles that look vaguely like an SUV but scrimp on features like all-wheel-drive, navigation systems and touch screens.

They’re the spiritual successors to the old Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix. Those cars  were basically Corolla station wagons with optional AWD, but their main appeal lay in a smidgeon more ground clearance and styling looked almost indefinably tougher than other small cars.

The new Nissan Kicks is a great example. Plastic cladding around the wheel wells and extra ground clearance belie its base price of $17,990, making it look just classy enough to be a first new car a young buyer isn’t embarrassed to arrive in.

As sales of subcompact cars like the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic trickle down to nothing, other brands will try to match the Kicks’ ability to look costlier than it is.

Return of compact pickup

Compact pickups’ first surge of popularity came when a generation of college grads discovered they cost less than a small sedan, had all the room a young single person needed, and came with a veneer of capability, even if they couldn’t tow or haul much.

Rising prices of midsize pickups and compact SUVs have convinced some automakers to study a revival of the truly small pickup, models that are three-fourths the size of a Chevy Colorado, or maybe even as small as the rather comical car-based 1980s Subaru Brat.

Today’s midsize pickups are as big as a full-size pickup 35 years ago. That could open the door for a return to some really small pickups with low prices to attract first-time buyers.

Contact Mark Phelan: mmphelan@freepress.com or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.

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