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Market trends: Emphasis shifts to soft-roaders

If asked to name the three best-selling off-roaders last year, most car industry folk would probably get pretty close
(it was Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander and Toyota RAV4). 

However, if asked to identify the top three in the final quarter of 2008, people might struggle. In that period, Britain’s best-selling off-roader was the Ford Kuga, followed by the CR-V and the VW Tiguan. It was also the first quarter Land Rover had been in one of the top three places. 

It is no coincidence that all three places were taken by the new breed of soft-roader. People want a high driving position without losing the car-like handling or, more importantly, the car-like fuel consumption. 

What they do not seem to want are modernised versions of traditional off-roaders. 

The Mitsubishi Outlander/Peugeot 4007/Citroën C-Crosser triumvirate managed to sell fewer than 600 units in those final three months.

The rebadged Korean-made models are also struggling: the Renault Koleos (by Renault-Samsung) and the Vauxhall Antara (by Chevrolet) are having little or no impact.

It is remarkable just how the centre of gravity of this market has shifted. 

At the launch of the Kuga last year, Ford had no intention of fighting for segment leadership – it just wanted to increase profitability by selling around 8,000 high spec off-roaders a year in the UK. Little did it know that 8,000 cars would soon
equate to being one of the big-selling models. 

The compact, easy-to-drive, economical models are where the market is at.

Top 10 Off Roaders (Q4, 2008)

In the past, the off-road segment was a rising tide that would float most boats. Now it is suffering from a rapidly receding tide and, as a result, many models look like beached whales. 

Of course, as so many off-roaders were planned in the boom years around 2005, they are coming to market at exactly the wrong time. 

The market will still take a healthy interest in stylish designs that make it clear they are crossovers, but models that look like they want to be Land Rovers when they grow up are definitely out of fashion.




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