The Crossover Craze Is Not Just an American Thing – Here’s What’s Happening In Europe and China

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Smarter car markets have stuck with small cars while Americans all drive huge SUVs, right? Wrong on both counts.

The two-row compact crossover is now the most common vehicle sold in America. Vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue have overtaken sales of midsized cars and even trucks. This huge expansion of the compact crossover is often mischaracterized by the mainstream media who portray these vehicles as “SUVs.” Indeed, the term sport utility vehicle certainly fits the compact crossover, but there is a world of difference between the Chevy Equinox, GM’s second-best seller after its Silverado pickup, and a true sport utility vehicle like the Suburban. They differ in size, mission, fuel efficiency, and popularity in ways that are very easy to differentiate. The Equinox outsells the Suburban by ten to one in America. The Equinox is the top-selling vehicle in multiple U.S. states. The Suburban in none.

By Percentage Of Vehicles Bought, Europe Has Nearly As Many Crossovers As America

The success of crossovers is often cast as an American phenomenon. About 40% of American vehicles sold are crossovers. Although crossovers have been a huge hit in America, they are also very popular in other large global markets. The one market that seems poised to follow in America’s crossover footsteps most closely is Europe. Yes, Europeans do still love compact and subcompact hatchback cars. The Volkswagen Golf, and its smaller Polo are still number one and two in sales overall. These are indeed the “peoples’ car” of Europe. The third-largest seller is the Reneau Clio, another hatchback. However, all three were down sharply in sales in 2019 vs 2018. Writing for the Financial Times, author John Gapper says, “When small cars dominated Europe’s roads, many citizens enjoyed a sense of aesthetic and ethical superiority to the US. But the rise of the European SUV is eliminating it…”


The fourth best-seller in Europe was the compact crossover VW Tiguan. Its sales were very close in number to both the Clio and Polo. In fifth place was the Nissan Qashqai compact crossover. In a 2018 Press release, Nissan said, “The Qashqai is the most successful model in Europe in Nissan’s history…” Overall, crossovers now account for about a third of the new vehicles sold in Europe. The Tiguan and Duster’s sales are both trending up.

Crossover Sales In China Booming

The new vehicle market in China is difficult to equate with the European and American markets. While the percentage of driving-age citizens owning vehicles remains low in China, it is the world’s largest vehicle market with about 24 million vehicles sold in 2018 (vs. 17 million in the U.S.). A recent study by McKinsey found that half of vehicle shoppers in China expect to buy an “SUV” as their next vehicle choice. Here, McKinsey is using “SUV” to mean crossovers, not full-size body-on-frame SUVs like the Chevy Suburban. The choice of an SUV, a.k.a. crossover, was consistent across all buyer age groups.

The Haval H6 from Great Wall is the third-best-selling vehicle in China today. It has a small turbocharged engine like a CR-V, and it looks like any crossover from any American or European brand in pretty much every way. A glance at the marketing of the H6 reveals it is sold to Chinese buyers in exactly the same way crossovers are sold to Amerian buyers. The featured image shows the H6 escaping the confines of the city at great speed.

The safety technology of the Haval H6 is a big part of the advertisement. The advert features the rearview camera, airbags in all the usual places, and electronic stability control to keep the driver safe and secure. Interestingly, the makers of the Haval H6 focus on active head restraints. In America, whiplash injuries are the overall costliest in all of motoring, yet we rarely see whiplash safety highlighted in a vehicle advertisement. Luxury amenities like heated seats, dual-zone heat and air conditioning, and push-button start are pointed to. The Haval H6 could be a contemporary crossover from any American, Japanese, or German brand.

We expect that the mainstream media will continue to portray compact crossovers as oversized, gas-guzzling abominations. In fact, crossovers are trending greener and smaller with each passing model year. The Honda CR-V, already a very fuel-efficient vehicle, will be offered with hybrid efficiency approaching 40 MPG this year. The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid already earns a 40 MPG overall rating, and Toyota’s newest trim, the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid, will earn a 90 MPGe rating. Tesla’s Model Y battery-electric crossover is poised to become its top-selling model and will have an efficiency rating of 120 MPGe. All of these models take up less area in a parking space than a midsized sedan.

As the crossover craze continues to spread globally, watch to see if those who report on automobiles can keep pace with the facts.