The traditional SUV "segment has been declining for years. (Sales) will be somewhat dependent on the types of vehicles manufacturers are offering and somewhat dependent on the price of gasoline and whatever consumers are demanding," Territo says.
The fuel factorRising gas prices do tend to impact SUV sales, especially with larger SUVs, Schuster says. "There was a pretty substantial drop when gas prices rose last year," he says. "It has recovered a little."
Several industry watchers believe buyers don't seem to worry as much about future gas prices. "What we have seen is a correlation between (SUV sales) and current gas prices," Nerad says.
Not entirely, says John Schwegman, General Motors' group manager for Chevy Trucks. One particular price spike -- when gas went to $4 a gallon last year and stayed there for several months -- left an imprint on vehicle buyers, he says. "Folks are really at that point where they're a little more cautious," Schwegman says. Before buying, he says, they're asking themselves, "'What do I need to carry?'"
Worst-selling 2009 SUVs
Here are the 10 worst-selling traditional SUVs, excluding models already canceled, courtesy of J.D. Power and Associates.
|1. Mercedes-Benz G-Class||297|
|2. Lincoln Navigator L||591|
|3. Hummer H2||801|
|4. Land Rover LR3||1,024|
|5. Toyota Land Cruiser||1,104|
|6. Mitsubishi Endeavor||1,471|
|7. Lexus LX-Series||1,742|
|8. Infiniti QX||2,319|
|9. Lincoln Navigator||2,503|
|10. Kia Borrego||2,597|
What's more, it may be attention to the pocketbook, rather than the environment, that's prompting buyers' recent choices. "I think Americans' like the concept of being green," says Michael Caudill, an auto expert and spokesman for NADAguides.com. "But they like the idea of spending less at the gas pump even more. You will start to see more hybrid technology built into full-sized SUVs," he says.
The introduction of hybrid SUVs, "has helped people who want to stay in the class but show some sensitivity to gas consumption," says Philip Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com.
SUVs here to staySo what's the future look like for SUVs? While opinions differ, many watching the auto industry agree that there will continue to be a steady demand for traditional SUVs.
"People are reassessing their needs and a large number of people are returning to the class," he says. "It will be a very interesting summer."
Evarts believes that the smaller traditional SUVs "will be the heart of the market." When it comes to larger models, "gas prices will still be volatile and people's purchasing power is down," he says.
Evarts and several others who study the industry forecast that traditional, truck-based SUVs will continue to be the vehicle-of-choice for people who live in rugged areas where they need off-road capabilities, along with those who have sizable needs for human capacity, towing or hauling.
But that is "a niche market," says Evarts. "It's not going to go away, but it will be concentrated among people who really need them, not just people who want to look good."
J.D. Power's Schuster agrees. The category is definitely not going the way of the dinosaur, he says. "We don't believe they'll disappear," he says. "But the number of species will be much fewer than we have today, and the share of that vehicle type will continue to decline. It will be a much smaller market because people who were buying just because it's popular, those buyers have exited the market."