2014 Autos: Compact Crossovers

Sleek new crossover designs are raising eyebrows and becoming the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. automotive market.

November 27, 2013

Lexus created quite a stir when it lifted the covers off the angular LF-NX concept vehicle during the Frankfurt Motor Show last autumn. But while the edgy design is the subject of hot debate among industry insiders and potential buyers alike, there’s one point everyone seems to agree on: Compact crossovers are the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. automotive market.

“We’re all reading the same tea leaves,” says Mark Templin, the new global chief executive for Lexus, which is Toyota Motor Co.’s luxury brand. An assortment of production models and compact crossover concept vehicles has been rolling out in recent months, including the new Porsche Macan and the Lincoln MKC models.

Intriguingly, while Americans have traditionally opted for larger, more powerful products than overseas buyers, U.S. motorists are in sync when it comes to the wave of new compact crossovers. And for good reason.

“For a consumer looking to maintain some utility while getting better mileage, you’ll get a lot more out of a compact crossover than you would from a compact sedan,” says Stephanie Brinley, an IHS Automotive strategist.

While the Lexus LF-NX is expected to undergo significant design changes before hitting the market, the luxury maker will have a production model ready in short order, joining the more mainstream Toyota brand. Nissan has scored a win with its mainstream Rogue model and will soon add a production version of the Infiniti Q30 concept. Even Jaguar has entered the fray with its C-X17 concept, which many expect will share the same underlying platform as a new compact sedan that the British automaker is developing.

“We’re going to be seeing a lot of growth,” says Cadillac’s product chief Dave Leone, “which makes it a very exciting segment.”

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.