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Auto industry, Auto shows, Branding, Cars, Content, Marketing

Stealing the show

A version of this post appeared on the Totem Brand Stories blog

For the automotive world, winter typically means two things: driving in snow and auto show season.  While the cars are always the stars, the shows themselves are almost as competitive.

The Los Angeles Auto Show kicks off the season in late November, followed by the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (on now, the media preview was last week) with the Montreal Auto Show muscling into the spotlight and running concurrently with the Detroit show. Toronto gets its turn February 15 – 24 when the Canadian International Auto Show marks its 40th annual year.

Despite the Motor City’s struggles and the former Big 3’s troubles, horsepower and sex appeal are still a big part of any auto show.  This year was no exception in Detroit, thanks to the unveiling of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, a 450-hp beast that is loaded with an array of futuristic technology.

But, while the Corvette and other performance cars like the Acura NSX and the Hyundai HCD-14 concept car got the lion’s share of attention, there were two reveals in Detroit that truly reflect consumer tastes.

Honda’s Urban SUV concept and Nissan’s Resonance concept point to a growing and key competitive market for most car companies: the compact SUV – also known as a crossover, or my favourite descriptor: trucklet.

Take a look at the driveways on your street or in any mall parking lot and you’re bound to notice the many Toyota RAV 4s, Honda CR-Vs and Ford Escapes. Each of these vehicles combine car-like handling with varying degrees of truck-like utility, making them useful for hauling around kids and dogs and groceries. Equipped with four-wheel drive, they can also prove handy in a snowstorm. Plus, that 4×4 capability gives them a touch of attitude that you just can’t get from a minivan, even though the minivan is truly the perfect vehicle for hauling kids and dogs and groceries. That’s just one reason why crossovers are so popular – automakers know that we consumers don’t always buy cars for the most practical reasons.

Crossovers have an interesting lineage. The sport utility vehicle boom was led by the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee – both big, brawny, thirsty machines. Gradually the SUV segment expanded into smaller vehicles that have nearly come full circle back to being cars again, and many look like long lost descendants of the old station wagons that pre-dated the SUV boom in the first place. Two key examples are the Subaru Forester and the redesigned 2013 Nissan Pathfinder.

Honda and Nissan believe this segment still has legs (er, wheels) and are aiming the Resonance and the Urban SUV concept (one assumes it’ll have a catchier name when it hits production) at young city dwellers. Honda’s machine will be smaller than the CR-V but not quite as small as its subcompact Fit “making it the ideal size for navigating both crowded city streets and open mountain roads,” says Honda.

The Resonance, assuming it makes production, will carry five people and be powered by a hybrid electric drivetrain. Hybrid and other alternative powertrains are important as automakers look for ways to win over urban consumers and meet government fuel economy standards.

Many of us like to think we’re more Corvette than Caravan when it comes to our choice of vehicle. But small trucklets could actually be one instance where automakers’ need to sell more small, fuel efficient cars might align with our desire to look cool while we ponder heading off on the road less travelled.

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About Paul Ferriss

Paul Ferriss is a writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He is editor of CAA Magazine (published for the Canadian Automobile Association by Totem, a custom content agency.) He's also Totem's director of creative and editorial. Previously he was executive editor at Marketing, a magazine covering advertising, media and marketing, where he also covered automotive marketing and managed an editorial team. He also works as a freelance writer and has written for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post and Canadian Business. He's the author of Never Too Fast: The Paul Tracy Story.

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