Not including overtly premium nameplates like the Cadillac Escalade, five of the seven available truck-based full-size SUVs available will either be thoroughly refreshed or completely revamped for the 2015 model year. They also happen to be the category’s five top sellers. It’s a tight knit segment, one with which the vast majority of automakers have chosen not to bother. But the parties that do field candidates aren’t giving up on these people-carrying towing beasts.
Five of the seven available vehicles are revamped for MY2015
GMC Yukon XL
In 2013, sales of the seven remaining traditional full-size SUVs produced 8240 sales, a three-year high, and an 8.6% year-over-year improvement. The group of seven were led by the Ford Expedition, sales of which slid 12.5%. But the Expedition lineup takes into account two Expedition variants, the short and long-wheelbase editions. Combined, Chevrolet’s two big SUVs combined to outsell the Expedition by nearly 1200 units last year. Through the first four months of 2014, segment-wide sales are down 16%, a 346-unit loss, in the lead-up to the arrival of numerous new contenders.
On the market in one form or another for eight decades, the Suburban is certainly a known quantity. Canadian Suburban sales certainly aren’t what they were – 1650 were sold in 2004; 1183 in 2013 – and through four months, sales have predictably plunged 62% as GM Canada rids itself of old models while waiting for new 2015s. In the last 36 months, Chevrolet has on 16 occasions sold more than 100 Suburbans in a single month. During the same period, an average of 1740 Equinoxes are sold each month.
2013 Tahoe volume, at 1632 units, was the highest it’s been since pre-recession 2008, but well off 2007’s 2211-unit pace. Only 255 Tahoes have been sold in 2014, but that’s representative of the replacement phase through which the Tahoe is battling. Second-half sales in 2013 were up 143%, however, a testament to a successful clear-out effort, but also a sign that not all potential customers have fuel efficiency on the brain. In fact, third quarter Tahoe sales were almost as high as Traverse sales.
The Expedition’s best seller status is undoubtedly helped by the fact that it represents the sales of two models, the Expedition and Expedition Max. (Ford sold 1638 Expeditions in 2013, Chevrolet sold 2815 Tahoes and Suburbans.) On one key level, Ford is rethinking the Expedition for the 2015 model year. The Expedition will look mostly the same, but there’ll be no V8 engine; the EcoBoost V6 from Ford’s F-150 will be the only offering. Look for fuel economy to be key to Ford’s marketing campaign.
Sales of the Tahoe’s twin were up 12.2% to 1333 units in 2013, a three-year high for the Yukon. In Canada, this has traditionally been GM Canada’s biggest full-size moneymaker. An average of nearly 2000 were sold annually between 2004 and 2010. Year-to-date sales in 2014 are down 30%, but Yukon volume jumped 11% to a class-leading 99 units in April.
GMC’s Suburban twin has sold an average of 1140 copies over the last four years, a healthy increase from the 842 sold in 2008 and the 664 sold in 2009, but well off the 2004 pace of 1722 sales. Yukon XL sales jumped 84% in April 2014, however, having risen 5% in calendar year 2013.
The Armada, still in first-generation form, hasn’t benefited from any significant change. Ever. And it’s been around for a decade. Armada volume was virtually nonexistent between 2006 and 2009. On average, only 167 were sold on an annual basis during that period. Sales perked up to 611 units in 2011 and have only fallen slightly since then. 2013 volume was up by two units to 539. It’s old, and it’s now available only in a high-end trim level, but it’s not completely forgotten. 2014 sales through four months are down 20%.
The biggest Toyota utility vehicle has benefited from the reduced availability of the segment’s top sellers to record a 36% year-over-year sales increase over the last four months. 2013 sales were level at 744 units, year-over-year, up slightly compared with 2011, down from 912 in 2010. Over the last six years, Toyota Canada has averaged 796 Sequoia sales, significantly higher than the 403-unit average achieved between 2004 and 2007.
With its new 2015 models, GM is making all the more obvious a fact with which we were all already very familiar: GM controls the full-size SUV market. Even in the first one-third of 2014, a year in which GM full-size SUV sales are expected to be in turmoil, 45% of the segment’s Canadian sales are GM-derived. In 2013, GM owned 65% of the category, up from 58% in 2012.
Full-size SUV sales in 2013, before the expected bump from a quintet of new utilities, totalled 8240 units. That’s lower than the collective segment managed on five occasions in the nine years leading up to 2013, but not enough to suggest the segment has died or is dying. Compared with 2004, sales in the category were down 32% in 2013. The Canadian slowdown isn’t nearly as bad as it was in the U.S., where full-size SUV sales plunged 64% between 2004 and 2013.
Indeed, U.S. sales of these vehicles have gone down the toilet over the last decade as the number of potential competitors increased along with the price of fuel. But while in Canada these seven SUVs account for 1.6% of all SUV/crossover sales and 0.5% of all new vehicle sales in 2013, they brought in 5.5% of U.S. SUV/crossover sales and 1.7% of U.S. new vehicle sales. Granted, that final figure is down from 4.3% in 2004.
This seven-pronged full-size SUV group hasn’t always been without direct competitors. Most recently, the Kia Borrego was a body-on-frame challenger. 1158 Borregos were sold in Canada – 528 in 2009 – between 2008 and 2012.
Operating under the (not incorrect) belief that most consumers who didn’t need to carry eight people while towing many thousands of pounds with V8-like fuel economy would steer away from full-size, truck-based SUVs, big crossovers became a big thing over the last decade. Consider GM’s own Lambda platform trio – Acadia, Enclave, Traverse – which sold more than twice as often as GM’s own quartet of traditional full-size SUVs in 2013. And they’re by no means the only players: don’t forget the Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, and Toyota Highlander.
If you want a body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle, your options are severely restricted in 2013. The price point for this group of seven is also very high, with base prices well in excess of $50,000 being the norm. And yet automakers push the idea much higher with the Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX570, Lincoln Navigator, and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, combined sales of which were 1796 units in 2013, 524 over the last four months. Their better-selling rivals, the Mercedes-Benz GL and Land Rover Range Rover, don’t use body-on-frame construction.