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Americans Still Love SUVs ... From Detroit

June car sales proved the theory that America’s love affair with the sport-utility vehicle is far from over, despite high gas prices. And last month they wanted their SUV from a domestic automaker.

The SUV may be labeled differently these days — perhaps as a CUV, crossover or tall wagon — and the specific objects of affection are generally smaller than in the past.

But that doesn’t take the luster off of GM, Ford, and Chrysler combining to post a 28% year-over-year improvement in utility-vehicle sales in June. The overall U.S. light-vehicle market improved by just 7% in that same period. That's also in stark comparison to a decline of 1% for Japanese SUVs. Since that figure is likely impacted by the recent Japanese earthquake, we also looked at SUV sales from Korean automakers Kia and Hyundai. The two saw SUV sales up 18%.

No SUV sold in greater numbers last month than the Ford Escape.
Sales of the smallest Ford utility vehicle jumped 43%. Overall, Ford utility-vehicle sales were up 27%; the Edge and Explorer also posted gains to combat losses faced by the Expedition and Flex. These five vehicles accounted for more than a quarter of all Blue Oval sales in June.

Ford passenger car sales improved even more substantially, up 29% from June 2010. The Mustang was Ford’s only car model to suffer a sales decline.

American SUV patriotism abounds at the Fiat-run Chrysler Group, as well. There’s arguably no vehicle more outwardly American than the Jeep Wrangler. Sales of the off-road champ improved 27% to 11,290 in June. The Wrangler was America’s fourth best-selling SUV, ahead of mainstream players like the Explorer, Kia Sorento and Honda Pilot.

Chrysler bosses can take even greater pride that every Jeep product — an entire lineup of SUVs — in addition to two Dodge SUVs, the Journey and Nitro, sold in greater volume this year than last.

The newly redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango also had strong sales in June.

Not all was well at GM. Sales of larger SUVs and crossovers such as Buick’s Enclave; Chevrolet’s Suburban, Tahoe and Traverse; Cadillac’s Escalade; and the GMC Yukon XL were lower this June than last.

GM’s standouts were on the smaller side. Chevy Equinox sales jumped 56% while the GMC twin, the Terrain, enjoyed a 52% bump in sales. Both numbers are impressive considering the two were hot sellers at this time last year when demand outweighed supply.

New and small may be the words of the day as older models on the husky side are on the decline for all automakers.

June sales figures for the Expedition, Suburban, Tahoe, Yukon, Yukon XL, Toyota Sequoia, and Nissan Armada were down to 18,751 from 54,766 when large SUVs ruled in June 2004. That 66% belly flop doesn’t correspond to the size of the overall new automobile market, which shrunk 27% in that same period.

The American SUV doesn’t seem to be the auto world’s skinny jeans, which are fashionable but bound to fall out of favor at some point. It has persisted, and in many forms, it is still thriving.

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