TheSUV, is an interesting phenomenon. Before the 1980s, they were uncommon and an acquired taste, like certain foreign cheeses or the movies of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. But during the 1990s, they took over the landscape.
In the last decade, they became somewhat vilified and watched helplessly as their devotees changed stripes, and embraced car-based crossovers.
This decade we’re seeing the actual vehicles changing stripes. Once proud truck-based SUVs nameplates are now switching over to car-based platforms. Earlier this year we saw Kia Sorrento make the move.
And just this week, Ford introduced its new generation Explorer, the first Explorer to go “unibody” and to offer front-wheel-drive versions, in addition to its AWD versions.
The Explorer move is significant, because the nameplate is credited as the major force behind the initial SUV tsunami. In its first year of production (1990), Explorer sold 14 million units. It helped turn a niche vehicle into the most dominant one of the era.
I think the clearest explanation of why the phenomenon developed back then came from John Rock, once a vice-president of GM. He observed that traditional car buyers at the time “just loved truck-based powertrains.”
At Ford Canada’s reveal of the 2011 Explorer, I caught up with Paul F. Roy, the company’s marketing director.
He noted that current customers are not hung up on which vehicle is body-on-frame or unibody. They’re more interested in what the vehicle can do, rather than the nature of its construction.
He addedExplorer is a name that continues to resonate, and there is a swath of buyers who prefer the more, rugged SUV vibe. They just want that vibe in a more fuel-efficient and sophisticated package.
So now we have another niche — a car-based crossover that’s trying to channel some old-school truck-based SUV mojo. At first I thought, “Naw, doesn’t feel right.” Now I’m thinking, “Why the hell not?”
Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.