DETROIT — Aging baby boomers. Couples with small kids. Single people with dogs.
All three groups love compact crossover SUVs, utility vehicles built mainly on small-car frames that are among the hottest-selling vehicles in the United States.
So far this year, sales of the versatile, high-sitting hatchbacks such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4 are up more than 20 percent.
From 2000 through last year, annual U.S. sales of small crossovers quadrupled, from just over 405,000 to well above 1.6 million, according to LMC Automotive, an industry data and research firm. Only their larger cousins, midsize crossovers such as the Toyota Highlander and Ford Edge, grew faster. This year, sales of small crossovers have already passed last year’s record total of 1,656,497.
John Felice, Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. marketing and sales chief, said buyers have been moving to the small crossovers from other vehicles, a trend that has accelerated in the past three months.
Dealers and small-crossover owners say the vehicles are appealing for a number of reasons:
They get better gas mileage than big cars or SUVs, and they’re more maneuverable and easier to park. That appeals to downsizing baby boomers.
They sit higher, giving drivers a better view than cars. They have more room for kids in the back seat than the compact cars they’re based on.
With a big hatch and cargo compartment behind the rear seat, there’s room for dogs, golf clubs, or bicycles.
Crossovers are generally cheaper than truck-based SUVs or large cars, starting around $19,000, although options can jack up the price. A loaded CR-V can run north of $35,000.
“I just did not want to drive a big vehicle,” says Carol Race, 66, of Winter Haven, Fla., who traded in a Mercury Grand Marquis large sedan for a smaller Ford Escape last summer.
“It’s so nice to have that extra room in the garage,” the elementary school secretary says.
Toyota started the segment with the RAV4 in 1995.
The Japanese barely compete in the red-hot pickup market, so these vehicles complement their best-selling small and midsize cars.
The Escape is close to outselling Honda’s CR-V, the longtime segment leader, for the second time in three years.
Escape sales have grown 14 percent this year, almost twice as fast as the CR-V. Honda sold 251,636 CR-Vs through October; the Escape was next at 250,543. General Motors’ Chevrolet Equinox ranked third at 202,583, followed by the RAV4 at 177,832.
Subaru introduced a reworked Forester in the spring. It’s bigger inside than the old model, and gets better gas mileage. It was Subaru’s top-selling vehicle last month, and U.S. sales are up 57 percent this year to 96,953.