Before crossovers became a practical automobile in America, the the most popular types of vehicles were passenger cars and sport utility vehicles. But surprisingly enough, crossover vehicles have been around longer than many people realize, and one of the first crossovers was actually made by Jeep, even if it wasn’t classified as such. Caught in-between trucks and passenger cars, what gave the rise to crossovers? A couple of things took place to conceive the new popular vehicle class.
Sport Utility Vehicle
Before the crossover came into the market, consumers that wanted the power of a light duty truck like the Ram 1500 but also wanted a family vehicle or passenger car like the Dodge Grand Caravan had one choice - a sport utility vehicle (SUV). At first thought to be the station wagon’s older brother, SUVs had a high center of gravity, high ground-clearance, and some even had all-wheel drive capability. They were basically pickup trucks designed to go off-road and have the seating capacity of a minivan or large sedan.
These vehicles were very popular in the early-to-mid 2000s, despite the fact that we’re only 17 years into the 21st Century. High oil prices and the poor fuel economy of early SUVs made them unpopular in the market, but on a global scale, SUV sales were growing. The vehicle class was actually most popular in the Unites States and Canada.
During this time however, something else was brewing.
Did you know the earliest ancestor of crossover vehicles today is said to be the 1948 Willys-Overland Jeepster convertible coupe? Doesn’t look much like the crossover we know today. If anything, it’s more a likening to a station wagon. The conception of this Jeepster was actually the automakers response to filling in the gap of their product lineup. See, military-type Jeep vehicles were restricted to farmers and foresters before the civilian Jeep (CJ) vehicle was produced.
Jeep developed the Jeepster as a “crossover” between their utilitarian trucks and the passenger automobile market. Several other automakers followed the trend and started to design passenger vehicles with increased ride height, four-wheel drive systems, off-road capability, and the ability to haul up to several thousand pounds. To date, the closest vehicle that resembles traditional crossovers was made by the American Motors Corporation, eventually acquired by Chrysler. Surprised?
AMC created a compact four-wheel drive passenger vehicle able to seat five passengers and haul up to 3500 pounds. It was actually introduced as a station wagon and its early models definitely fit the look. Station wagons were losing popularity with the American market though, and the vehicle lasted less than a decade. The AMC Eagle was followed by Toyota’s RAV, the Audi Q5, and the Lexus RX. Utility was still a big part of the crossover game, but sportiness and style was starting to dominate.
In 2008, CNNMoney coined the term “crossover,” but the vehicle itself was dominating U.S. sales by 2006. Today, the lines blur a bit, but there are many crossover vehicles that could be either, a SUV or a crossover vehicle. The 2018 Dodge Durango is a great example. Able to tow up to 7,400 pounds and with a seating capacity of five or seven passengers depending on the trim and options selected, consumers can choose whether they’re looking for more cargo space or more passenger space. With the different engines available, they can also choose how much power they’re looking for, or if it’s more about family entertainment while keeping everyone safe.
The average consumer of a crossover vehicle will tell you they choose crossovers because they’re a perfect blend between coupes and SUVs. They’re sporty, compact, and have great fuel economy, but they don’t sacrifice cargo space and power to get there. Crossovers have become so practical that many automakers, such as Mitsubishi Motors, have retconned their complete lineup to feature more of what’s making the big bucks. Kia Motors may also be following suit with fan favorites like the Kia Niro and the upcoming Kia Stonic.
When you look at the history of crossover vehicles, it’s easy to think the vehicle class came out of nowhere. Without a little research, it’s hard to pinpoint when crossovers became practical, let alone popular. In reality, they’ve been around for decades. We just didn’t know it.
Interested in getting your own crossover? At NowCar, you can search for many cars by body type alone and then pick all the must-have features you want. Are you looking for power and cargo space, or seating capacity and technology? Start your search with NowCar today.