The crossover segment is rocking.
Ford says the segment has grown by 220% in the past four years and projects it will grow by another 20% this year over 2009.
Ford's leading entry, the Ford Edge, debuted in the market in late 2006, when midsize crossovers accounted for just 4.3% of all U.S. new light vehicles sold at retail, the automaker said. In 2009, the segment jumped to 9.5% of total industry sales and this year is expected to exceed 11%, putting it on the same footing as full-size pickups.
"Edge competes in one of the fastest-growing and most fiercely competitive segments in the industry," said Ford's Amy Marentic, crossover group marketing manager. "Still, Edge is growing sales at an incredible rate."
The Edge is popular with young couples with no or one child, with 49% of sales to females, which is 18% higher than any other Ford model, Marentic said. Exterior styling is the most important to Edge buyers, but only ranks fifth as a reason to buy across the rest of the segment. Edge buyers are coming from larger SUVs and cars, she said.
Ford recently said sales of its Ford Edge crossover hit 400,000 units since its arrival in late 2006, noting the cumulative total is more than any other midsize crossover in the same period.
The crossover crown comes down to how the numbers are interpreted.
General Motors recently claimed to be the industry leader in U.S. crossover sales – but in 2010. GM is counting combined sales for all its entries: the Chevrolet Equinox, HHR and Traverse; Buick Enclave; GMC Terrain and Acadia; plus the Cadillac SRX. GM said its combined crossover sales jumped by 73% in the first seven months of 2010 compared to last year. Of the bunch, GM's best-selling model is the Chevy Equinox, with 76,859 units sold through July, up 114% from the same period a year ago, according to Automotive News.
Ford sold 65,369 Edges in the first seven months of 2010, a 33% gain from the year-ago period.
But Honda's CR-V is the nation's best-selling crossover so far this year, tallying 106,928 units, a 9% increase from the first seven months of 2009.
Crossovers come in a variety of forms, but most commonly are car-based sport utility vehicles. They offer smoother rides than truck-based SUVs and get better mileage.
Crossovers have been around for several decades, but the moniker didn't surface until several years ago.
In the late 1990s and earlier this decade, truck-based sport utility vehicles had been the industry's darling, generating hefty sales and profits for automakers – until gas prices starting escalating in 2007.
"The gas crisis in 2007 and 2008 pushed (truck-based) SUVs over the cliff," said expert Dave Scott, senior vice president of consultancy GfK Automotive. Crossovers, he said, is a segment "where manufacturers have to go to continue profitability and explore selling more cars as well." None of the automakers wants to lose share so they are wooing traditional SUV owners with crossovers, Scott added.
GM recently voluntarily started a safety recall of just over 243,000 Chevy Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook units from the '09 and '10 model years for a potential second-row safety belt problem that it said in rare cases can seem to be properly latched when it's not. The action mostly covers the U.S., along with several thousand vehicles in Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
Scott said he doesn't expect GM's action will damage the crossover segment. "I'm not even sure it will hurt GM's success with those models," he added.