They had been left for dead as recently as this decade. Hulking dinosaurs, reeking of inefficiency and poor ride quality, body-on-frame SUVs were supposed to have ceded their turf to crossovers and moved firmly into the industry's rearview mirror by now.
Consumers had other plans.
While the overall number of body-on-frame SUV nameplates has shrunk since their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, the remaining players are thriving. So healthy are sales and profit margins for their makers and sellers that new variants such as the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler pickup are set to join the fray.
It's a group of vehicles steeped in tradition and backstory. Like the Mustang and Corvette, they're among the one-name models in the industry: Wrangler, 4Runner, Bronco.
Among the factors driving today's healthy market for body-on-frame SUVs:
- Gasoline prices are down and expected to stay there while SUV fuel efficiency is up — somewhat. This combination gives consumers and automakers confidence to invest in a body-on-frame SUV.
- The economy has recovered from the recession, so consumers are again looking at discretionary purchases.
- With most nameplates switching to a unibody setup, there's less competition for the remaining body-on-frame models.
Crucially, because most of these vehicles share their components with either high-volume pickups domestically or other SUV models sold globally, a body-on-frame SUV is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for their makers.