Surging compact crossovers hot on sedans' heels

Talk about a blazing hot segment, compact nonluxury crossovers are on fire.

The category grew from 12.9 percent of the U.S. market in the first three months of last year to 15.9 percent this year, according to the latest Polk registration data.

"It is unusual to see such a major jump in just one year," said analyst Tom Libby at IHS Automotive, which owns Polk. "This segment is now the second biggest in the industry, just a hair behind nonluxury midsize cars."

Registrations of 25 compact crossovers rose 27 percent through March in an overall market up just 2.9 percent.

The Jeep Cherokee is new to the segment -- adding 37,433 registrations in the first quarter. But all together, the segment grew by 127,095 units to 602,088. And there were several big gainers: The Subaru Forester was up 74 percent, the Nissan Juke 69 percent, Mazda's CX-5 49 percent and the Nissan Rogue 41 percent.

The big dogs in this yard -- the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Chevrolet Equinox -- were up by a combined 6 percent.

"The crossover concept in the long term may challenge the traditional three-box sedan body type as the most popular in the industry," said Libby. "If you are a nonluxury make, you need to be in this segment with a competitive product, or you will lose share."

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