Small crossover, big pickup segments sizzle

Honda’s CR-V in 2013 became the first crossover to sell more than 300,000 units in a year.

Small crossovers had a record year in 2013, with U.S. sales surpassing 2 million units for the first time. And the growth rate nearly doubled from 2012 for full-sized pickups but slowed in the compact and mid-sized car segments.

The rising demand for small crossovers and big pickups, which combined to account for more than one in every four vehicles sold, helped light-truck sales increase 11 percent in 2013 from the year before. Car sales rose 4 percent.

Sales of small crossovers, a category that includes the new Buick Encore and Jeep Cherokee, jumped 23 percent in 2013, following a 17 percent gain in 2012.

Each of the 12 top-selling small crossovers had its best year in 2013, and the segment's leader, the Honda CR-V, was the first crossover of any size to sell more than 300,000 units in a year.

The segment's share of overall industry sales grew to more than 13 percent -- behind only mid-sized and compact cars -- from about 11 percent a year ago.

Small crossovers have gained popularity for their utility and fuel efficiency. Redesigns of several high-volume nameplates, including the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue, also are helping drive demand higher.

"They're all pushing the mid-30s in fuel efficiency, so they're viable competitors for those who were shopping in the mid-sized and compact car segments," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Small CUVs seem to be one of the vehicles of choice for that particular demographic."

Sales of big pickups surged 17 percent in 2013, as more consumers and businesses that had delayed buying new trucks during the recession returned to the market. That compares with a 9 percent increase in 2012.

Automakers sold nearly 2 million big pickups in 2013, including more than 760,000 Ford F series. General Motors sold nearly 665,000 of its big pickups, which were redesigned for the 2014 model year. The Nissan Titan, down 27 percent, was the only full-sized pickup not to post a double-digit increase.

Mid-sized cars, which grew 23 percent in 2012, posted just a 1 percent increase in 2013. The Toyota Camry, despite facing considerable pressure early in 2013 from the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, retained its title as the nation's best-selling car for the 12th year in a row.

The order of the next 10 top-selling mid-sized cars was unchanged from 2012 as well.

Sales of compact cars, which rose 20 percent in 2012, were up 5 percent in 2013.

Luxury cars continued their post-recession comeback, with sales rising 10 percent.

The biggest portion of that segment, compact luxury cars, posted a 19 percent gain. Jesse Toprak, a longtime analyst and president of Toprak Consulting, said Wall Street's best year since the 1990s and lower-priced additions such as the Mercedes-Benz CLA, with a base sticker price of $30,825, including shipping, coaxed more consumers into buying luxury cars.

"More consumers [are] feeling comfortable getting into this segment," Toprak said.

In contrast to all of the segments that grew, minivan sales fell 2 percent, after rising 14 percent a year ago. It was an especially tight race among the four major minivan nameplates, with the three runners-up each falling fewer than 8,000 units short of the Honda Odyssey.

Two other segments -- mid-sized SUVs and compact pickups -- posted declines but only because some high-volume nameplates were discontinued. The end of the Jeep Liberty sent mid-sized SUVs, which now comprises just five entries, down 10 percent. Compact pickups fell 14 percent as production of the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon came to a halt.

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