Will Another Economic Recession End The Crossover Era?

One of the fears and speculations of what 2019 will bring is the growing angst that an economic recession is on the horizon. Nothing is set in stone and experts aren’t exactly sure if and when another downturn in the economy will occur, but it does make for good conversation in the automotive industry. For the last six years, the United States has experienced some very lucrative times, especially on both the East and West coasts. With that it’s brought demand for bigger vehicles, including crossovers which now dominate the roads and sales figures. However, are crossovers doomed to fail should there be another recession like 2008, and have some brands set themselves up to feel a lot of pain when bad times return?

As the saying goes, “If you fail to learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it”, and that’s exactly where we are as we near the end of this decade. 2008 played a major role in prominent American brands being killed off by manufacturers in Detroit. Hummer, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Plymouth, and Mercury would all eventually suffer the same fate with reasons for their demise differing. Hummer is the one brand that stands out because when times were good everyone wanted one. The minute the stock market crashed, demand for the outrageously large and gas guzzling SUVs withered, causing not only the company to close its doors, but also forcing other brands to downsize.

In 2019, we’re here once again at a crossroads, having not learned anything from ten years ago. Brands all across the world have added crossovers to their lineups and for Chevy and Ford, basically the only vehicles being offered as they’re killing off sedans and hatchbacks. The Germans on the other hand continue to produce luxury sedans, and in fact Mercedes Benz is adding the very compact A-Class to their US market lineup. If anything, luxury manufacturers have covered all the bases, and if demand wanes in one segment, they have vehicles in place to feed consumer demand for whatever the next trend in buying behavior is.

You should never underestimate the planning and foresight of automotive manufacturers as they’re usually ahead of the curve when it comes to detecting high and lows in the economy. One way to battle any volatility in the markets and extreme shifts in volume of sales in the automotive industry is the new wave of compact crossover vehicles that resemble elevated cars more than SUVs.

2019 Lexus UX
2019 Lexus UX

The all new 2019 Lexus UX is the most recent arrival in this segment that combines practicality, luxury, and affordability. As a complete package, this vehicle will certainly be a survivor in the Lexus lineup should there be rough times ahead for one important reason. It’s fuel efficient. At a starting price of around $34k, this compact crossover is available with hybrid technology, which is going to give you 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Also by opting for the UX 250h, you’re getting AWD whereas with the fully gas powered engine, front wheel drive is the only drivetrain available. For rear cargo space, the UX will get close to 22 cubic ft which is certainly better than most sedans.

Other new arrivals this year to the compact crossover segment were the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona. These vehicles offer crossover-like tendencies, practicality, and for the Kona, AWD. These are the vehicles that have the best chance of surviving whatever adverse times lie ahead. Can the same be said for their bigger siblings?

One thing is for sure, Americans didn’t get intimidated ten years ago and ran away from the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are still priced reasonably for most consumers. It’s the luxury brands and even Ford and Chevy that need to be concerned moving forward. American crossovers just aren’t on par with their Japanese counterparts when it comes to interior quality, and if consumers are complaining about that now in a good economy, what will they say when they become more frugal and start looking for the most value for the price? On top of that, they got rid of all their sedans and hatchbacks which now puts Ford and Chevy in a difficult spot because they have no game plan if consumers don’t want what they’re producing.

Fuel efficiency then becomes a major factor, and generally speaking, crossovers aren’t exactly the most economical. Consumers start downsizing and for the new economic climate, it’s either sedans and hatchbacks or compact crossovers. Recently I had reviewed the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, it’s the poor fuel economy that concerns me, as with AWD you can expect 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those aren’t exactly the best numbers if people start cutting costs, which is why for the next recession, I don’t necessarily think the size of the vehicle matters, but what’s underneath the hood that will make the difference.

The Honda and Toyota families are further ahead of the curve than most automotive brands today because of their advancements in hybrid technology. A hybrid RAV4 and Lexus UX could become hot commodities as they’ll be economical and practical. Honda re-introduced the Insight which is already on pace to have its best year in sales since 2010 and generally speaking the rest of the lineup is very fuel efficient. This is why both brands survived several recessions while Ford and GM suffered greatly.

If manufacturers don’t have hybrid crossovers in their lineups by the time the next recession hits, that will be the deciding factor in how long this trend of bigger vehicles continues. That’s when consumers downsize to four door passenger cars, and until the economy gets back on its feet, crossovers may not experience the same success they have most of this decade.

At the end of the day, this is purely speculation. However, there’s been enough reasons why this should be taken seriously. All good things come to an end, the question now is how much longer do things remain the same before major adjustments to a new economic climate must be made?

Winter In New England: Never Buy A Front Wheel Drive Car

Have you had enough of winter yet? We sure have. Between shoveling out the driveway, getting stuck on unplowed roads, fishtailing down city streets, and not feeling invincible like the car ads show, makes us extremely tired of snow this year. But guess what? We still have another month or so of winter left, and with a front wheel drive car, patience has run out. Unless you’re a young kid who likes snow drifting in parking lots, RWD will get you nowhere in this weather, and at times FWD is no better. That leaves us with one choice. AWD crossovers, SUV’s, and sedans. Are we complaining? No.

The biggest issue with front wheel drive is that you have no traction in the back. You may make it around the corner, but the back end always gets loose, even with stability and traction control on. Older vehicles are more prone to these problems due to loss of power, and this is very noticeable when going uphill. The prime remedy is to always winterize your car, put on snow tires, and go the whole 9 yards, but weather chooses no favorites and it will stop you dead in your tracks.

When it comes to RWD, you might as well attach a RV trailer on the back of the car because it will expend all your energy and concentration to make it home in a timely manner. Because all the power comes from the back, you have to stabilize the weight ratio as the engine is in the front which causes a nightmare if you get stuck in a rut. Personally, we never understood why RWD was ever considered to be a great idea for driving in the northern reaches of the country, but that decision is up to the buyer.

After surviving six feet of snow in less than three weeks, we’ve decided that AWD and four wheel drive is the only answer to making it through unplowed surfaces. Go on Youtube and Instagram and you’ll find Subarus going through snow as if it was cotton candy, and a BMW dealership in Massachusetts showed the power of BMW’s AWD system as it made it out of a snowbank surrounding the car.

If you still want a RWD or front wheel drive vehicle after winter of 2015, all power to you. We’re done with fishtailing and watching drivers with AWD facing no adversity while we’re trying to correct the wheel because the rear tires feel like they’re on banana peels.

Some people would say all the fun cars are RWD, but we beg to differ. You can’t tell us that cutting through snow in a Subaru and feeling unstoppable for a season is better than snow drifting. Having to put a shovel in the trunk and constantly debating whether you can make it through that snow pile or up that unplowed street has changed our perceptions of winter driving. Yes, for the first storm it seems fun, but when you’re actually trying to get from point A to point B in one piece, AWD seems like the best alternative.

This winter will be over in a few months, at least that’s what we’re hoping. By then maybe FWD and RWD cars will seem more appealing, but for the time being, AWD systems, whether that be Quattro or X-drive, Subarus or Volvos, SUV’s or crossovers, are the only vehicles we want to be behind the wheel of until late April.

Mazda: The Face Of A New Trend In The Auto Industry

Mazda 6
AlBargan / Foter / CC BY-ND

The past five to ten years for the auto industry has seen countless innovations and changes, from cars being more economical, smaller SUV’s, to auto manufacturers changing their identity to keep up with the times. Mazda is one of many manufacturers who changed their lineup to appeal to all generations with their new designs and models that range across the spectrum of the auto world. A company that was primarily sports car driven with the Miata and RX-7, is now continuously finding ways to add on to what they’ve built in the past decade.

The Mazda 3, Mazda 6, CX-5, and CX-9 have created a solid foundation for the Japanese auto maker to build on. The 3 and 6 are beginning to compete against tough competition, as sedans priced between $20,000 – $30,000 have become extremely competitive. Because of this, auto brands are releasing some of the best looking cars in the segment. The Chrysler 200, Ford Focus and Fusion, Honda Civic and Accord, Subaru Impreza and Legacy, and Mazda’s 3 and 6 might just be the most options consumers have ever had in the compact to mid-size sedan segment. With that being said, a new trend in the auto industry is here, and you can thank the Germans for that.

Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW are in a battle of their own, fighting for position and dominating the smaller luxury car market. This fight for a majority stake in the $30,000 – $40,000 range has trickled down to companies who primarily sell cars $10,000 cheaper. Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Subaru, Mazda, and Hyundai know that if they don’t start jockeying for position in their respected segment, they’ll become victims to the big three in Germany. Consumers are beginning to see the opportunities that BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have opened up and are now buying A3’s, CLA’s, and BMW X1’s. After two strong years for the Germans, the other auto manufacturers have had to throw a few punches of their own.

Think about it. Did you ever think you’d see the day when a Honda Fit or Civic would have a touch screen in their dashboards? Mazda’s, Subaru’s, and Hyundai’s are looking more high class which is making the consumer very bold in this segment. Four-door sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers are the new, hot toys on the market. Sports cars are seeing a decline in sales, and despite lower gas prices, consumers aren’t buying bigger SUV’s like they once did.

We are going to continue seeing the auto industry changing, but for the better. Right now, as consumers, we’re like kids in a candy store and the auto manufactures continue coming out with new things to try. Mazda is about to unleash the new CX-3 which will take a bite in the small crossover segment, Honda is still going strong with the models they’re selling, Subaru continues to change their model’s appearances to entice buyers, Ford is pushing the Titanium trims of the Focus and Fusion, and Chrysler’s 200 not only looks classy, but now offers a V-6 engine under the hood that supplies 295 HP.

This is an amazing time to be in the market for a car. You can buy new or used, or lease which will put you behind the wheel of these new cars. Best of all, dealerships are offering great lease deals, especially around the holidays. Heading into 2015, you don’t have to own a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes Benz to drive a nice a car that provides luxury and a quiet interior.