CHICAGO -- The spruced-up 2017 Trax that Chevrolet showed here last week is more than an obligatory midcycle freshening. It's a statement about the importance automakers are placing on subcompact crossovers, a segment that didn't exist three years ago but in 2015 accounted for a whopping 21 percent of overall U.S. sales growth.
An influx of new players -- the Trax, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 -- joined incumbents such as the Buick Encore and Nissan Juke to form a segment seemingly overnight, one that just about every automaker is targeting as the industry's sales growth slows.
Subcompact crossover sales more than doubled in 2015, to 389,960 vehicles. And that growth is even more significant for the market segments that it's stirring up.
For one thing, the vehicles give automakers an entry point with younger buyers. One-quarter of the people who purchased one of six subcompact crossovers last year were younger than 45 and without kids, vs. 19 percent for the industry overall, according to a survey by Strategic Vision Inc.
Buyers also are coming from the other end of the spectrum: empty nesters who no longer need bigger crossovers, SUVs and minivans to schlep around their kids.