Small SUVs poised to dominate at Geneva
Renault, PSA, Ford models will rise quickly in key European segment
Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen will use the Geneva auto show as the launching pad for models that are forecast to go to the top of Europe's fast-growing small SUV segment.
Starting in 2014, the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur will rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the segment, dropping the current leader, the Nissan Juke, to third place, predicts analyst IHS Automotive.
Meanwhile, Ford's Geneva stand will include the EcoSport, which is expected to rank sixth in the small SUV segment in 2014 (see table, below).
The models arrive at a crucial time for the three brands, all of which suffered double-digit European sales declines in both 2012 and the first month of 2013, according to figures from industry association ACEA.
Strong demand for the Opel/Vauxhal Mokka, which debuted last October, shows that small SUVs can help a brand reverse declining sales. Opel's European sales were up 4 percent in January, according to ACEA data.
The arrival of four all-new vehicles within a 12-month period is expected to boost small SUV sales in Europe to more than 500,000 by 2015 from 154,461 last year, according to IHS.
"The sector has staying power," senior analyst Ian Fletcher said in an interview. "Many customers love the thought of owning SUVs and crossovers because of their high riding position and the perception of their off-road abilities. These vehicles offer this without fuel economy or CO2 pitfalls."
Fletcher said vehicles such as the 2008 and Captur will be a popular with car buyers looking for a change, but their decision to move to a different model will affect the French brands' sales of the traditional hatchbacks. "There will be some cannibalization from other models in the brand," he said. "The 208, for example, is not a bad car but if a buyer is looking for something a bit different, the 2008 is probably perfect."
Unlike larger SUVs, the CO2 emissions for both the 2008 and Captur will start below 100 grams per kilometer, the automakers say. By comparison, the best CO2 result from the Peugeot 4007 SUV is 189g/km while it is 166g/km for the compact-sized Renault Koleos.
According to Renault, the Captur will offer the "expressive styling and driving position of an SUV with the cabin space and modular interior of a minivan." Sales of Renault's small minivan, the Modus, fell 37 percent last year to 30,315, which is why the automaker is replacing the Modus with the Captur.
More rivals coming
Other automakers will use Geneva to showcase their entries for the small SUV segment. Honda will unveil the Urban concept that previews a small SUV that is due to arrive in Europe next year. The car will be based on Honda's Jazz subcompact. Kia also will show a concept in Geneva that previews a possible entrant into the sector.
Another small SUV set to due in Europe in 2014 is the Fiat 500X, which will share its underpinnings with a new entry-level model for the Jeep brand.
More rivals are due in 2015, including one from Volkswagen that will borrow from the Taigun concept the automaker showed last year in Brazil. IHS expects that Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai also will launch small SUVs by 2015.
Despite the strong competition, IHS predicts the 2008 will remain No. 1 and the Captur will hold on to second place in European small SUV sales by 2016 with the VW entry at No. 3 followed by the Juke in fourth place and Hyundai's model rounding out the top five.
Interest in the sector is already strong today in Europe, where Opel/Vauxhall sold almost 5,500 Mokkas in January, according to figures from JATO Dynamics, with demand outstripping supply. "We will be supply constrained this year. We will probably have to close the order books for a while in the second quarter," a Vauxhall spokesman said.
The Mokka and its sister model, the Chevrolet Trax, are built in South Korea, which means "the pipeline is rather long, so that adds to the frustration," the spokesman said.
The automakers are counting on the small SUVs to appeal well beyond Europe. Peugeot will build the 2008 in Mulhouse, France, as well as in China and Brazil. "The 2008 is the Peugeot brand's first model simultaneously designed from the outset by and for several geographies," the automaker said in a statement in January.
Peugeot plans to increase its sales outside of Europe to 50 percent by 2015, up from 33 percent in 2011.
The Ford EcoSport first went on sale in Brazil and the model for Europe, which debuted in Barcelona last month, is very similar. Ford will announce production plans for the EcoSport at Geneva.
Honda has announced it will sell its small SUV globally, including the United States, where the cars will come from Mexico. Honda has not named its production base for small SUVs sold in Europe, although its factory in Swindon, England, is one possibility.
Another attraction of the sector is the chance to leverage the appeal of SUVs to increase profits. PSA has said the 2008 is one of its new models that "will contribute to the upmarket strategy in 2013" alongside the 208 GTI, 208 XY and the Citroen DS3 cabrio. Along with the move upmarket, PSA is cutting jobs and closing a plant in France after burning through 3 billion euros in 2012.
The Mokka is one of the models GM is counting on to lead a revival in Europe, where the automaker had a $1.8 billion operating loss last year. Ford also is struggling in Europe, where it estimates that its loss will widen to $2 billion this year from $1.8 billion in 2012.
The potential for profits in the sector is also attracting smaller automakers. Qoros, backed by Chinese automaker Chery, will sell a model starting in 2015, IHS predicts. And Korean automaker SsangYong will show a small SUV concept this month in Geneva.
You can reach Nick Gibbs at email@example.com.