The 2017 Honda Pilot, an Edmunds pick for a crossover. The Pilot has 78.5 percent domestic content and is built in Lincoln, Alabama. (American Honda Motor Co.)

The 2017 Honda Pilot, an Edmunds pick for a crossover. The Pilot has 78.5 percent domestic content and is built in Lincoln, Alabama. (American Honda Motor Co.)

Americans go Rogue as compact SUVs eclipse family sedans


Toyota’s U.S. sales chief predicted in late 2015 that the RAV4 would outsell Camry within five years. It won’t take nearly that long.

Family sedans like Toyota’s Camry — the top-selling U.S. car the last 15 years — will be surpassed for the first time by a trio of compact sport utility vehicles: the Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Until Hurricane Harvey hit, some analysts expected strong demand for these models to pace the industry’s first monthly sales gain this year in August.

The faster-than-anticipated rise of crossovers reflects a sweeping shift in American consumer taste and rushed efforts by manufacturers to rework their factories at the whims of car shoppers. As the companies reconsider projections for just how much appetite there is for compact SUVs, more pointed advertising campaigns are going to help determine which models come out on top.

“It’s so hard to forecast small SUVs,” Bob Carter, Toyota’s top U.S. sales executive, said this month. “We forecast for growth, then it blows through the forecast and goes further.”

After Harvey slammed Houston — one of the largest vehicle markets in the country — Kelley Blue Book and LMC Automotive each trimmed their August sales projections released before the hurricane made landfall. Analysts predict the annualized selling rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, may drop to 16.4 million, according to the average estimate in a Bloomberg News survey, from 17.2 million a year earlier.

Demand for vehicles to replace those damaged by flooding in the Gulf of Mexico region may boost auto demand starting as soon as September and continue into next year. Reconstruction projects for businesses, homes and infrastructure may spur sales of full-size pickups, like Ford Motor Co.’s F-Series, General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Silverado and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram models, the only models that still outsell crossovers.

Through July, the Rogue was the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. after those full-size pickups, with deliveries surging 25 percent. Toyota’s RAV4, up 15 percent, is only about 1,500 units behind.

This summer, Toyota ads in some regional markets were specifically aimed at winning over buyers who were considering a Rogue, and RAV4 outsold Rogue in July.

“They’ve been pretty aggressive,” said Judy Wheeler, Nissan’s vice president of U.S. sales. “They’re running interference with our Rogue success.”

Toyota has no national strategy for knocking off Nissan’s crossover, and the ads were likely aired by regional dealer groups, Carter said. He said some of the Nissan Rogue’s sales gain this year can be attributed to deliveries to fleet customers, such as rental-car companies.

To catch up, Toyota is working with suppliers to boost production of the hybrid version of RAV4, which is built in Japan. While sales of Toyota’s segment-leading Prius line have tumbled 19 percent this year through July, sales of the gasoline-electric RAV4 are up 6.4 percent and would be even higher if dealers could get more of them, Carter said.

“A lot of these went to hybrid buyers who were loyal to the brand but who were cooling off on conventional sedans,” Carter said. “We’re capacity constrained.”

Even if Toyota can get more hybrids, Nissan may still have the last laugh. The Rogue line is expanding with the rollout of the Rogue Sport, a slightly smaller and cheaper version just now reaching wide distribution.

Turf war aside, both automakers are benefiting from the shift in consumer taste. Analysts are projecting Toyota and Honda will report the biggest sales gains in August among the six largest automakers in the U.S.

The seismic rearrangement of the sales rankings that’s seen SUVs overtake sedans has been bubbling up for a while, said John Mendel, Honda Motor Co.’s former top U.S. sales executive.

“It’s like watching kids grow,” Mendel, who retired in April, said by phone. “You watch them every day and you don’t really notice so much. Then all the sudden you look back from two years ago, like, ‘Holy crap! When did that happen?’”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Striking Starbucks employees talk to a woman who wanted to use the drive-thru but was turned away due to the strike on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, on Broadway in Everett, Washington. Workers at the 37th and Broadway store spent their morning picketing because a fellow employee had been fired the previous day in what the workers believe is an act of union busting. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett Starbucks workers go on strike after employee fired

The employee and her fellow union members claim she was fired for supporting the union. Starbucks denies it.

Property values soar 32% in Snohomish County due to hot housing market

Assessed values are up all across the county since last year. The impact on tax bills won’t be known for a few months.

Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

Holly Burkett-Pohland, the owner of Burkett’s Home & Gift, outside of her new store front on Friday, June 17, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Everett gift store debuts in former J. Matheson space

For years, Holly Burkett-Pohland wanted to expand a business founded by her mother in 1978.

A Kenmore Air Cessna 208 Caravan. (Kenmore Air) 20220613
Kenmore Air to start daily flights from Paine Field to San Juans

Service begins July 14. Flights to Friday Harbor and Orcas Island airports take about 25 minutes.

Seattle Space Needle sues coffee chain over use of logo

The logo for Local Coffee Spot features a mug of hot coffee whose rising steam bears striking resemblance to the iconic tower.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Foes of state’s capital gains tax drop plans for initiative

I-1929 sponsors say they are confident a lawsuit challenging the legality of the tax will be successful.

Smoother sailing: Arlington airport gets grant to fix runway

A $2.3 million federal grant will pave the way for a project to resurface the airfield’s main runway.

Workers build the first all electric plane, the Eviation Alice, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  The plane is designed for regional travel and to carry nine passengers. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Eviation moves tests of electric passenger plane to Moses Lake

The Arlington company said a bigger runway and flatter terrain are better suited to early testing of the commuter aircraft.

An artist's rendering of the new Funko warehouse in Buckeye, Arizona. (Funko) 20220407
Funko warehouse layoffs begin this week in Everett, Puyallup

The layoffs, announced in April, are part of a plan to move distribution operations to Arizona.

Rendering of the front entrance of Spruce Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Edmonds School District)
Police: Edmonds schools sent $2.7 million check to fraudster

Police say the fraudster posed as a contractor for a new elementary school. A bank caught it at the last second.

Looking north, an aerial view of Paine Field in Everett. (Paine Field / Snohomish County) 20220605
Paine Field development plan envisions an expanded terminal

Once Sea-Tac Airport reaches capacity, the Everett airport is on the short list to absorb unmet demand by passengers.