I started putting together a list of SUVs and crossovers that are scheduled to arrive in the coming years, and I began to get scared. The sheer numbers were mind-numbing, and the overlap between vehicles at each manufacturer stunning. It is as though the collective industry had lost its mind. I'll give you some examples to illustrate what I mean.
Ford is killing off the Freestyle in 2007-a move predicated by: a) Ford's desire to keep this very nice vehicle from cannibalizing Explorer sales; b) its failure to set the sales charts on fire out of the gate; or c) a realization that mating a wide-ratio CVT to a small V6 in a 4,000-lb car gives great gas mileage, but not enough performance. Nevertheless, the SUV/crossover ranks in Dearborn are overflowing. In the coming years the company will add a Mercury version of the Freestyle, five Mazda6-based vehicles (the larger Lincoln Aviator/Ford Edge/Mercury-to-be-named-later, and only slightly smaller replacements for the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner), and a "sport wagon" version of the B-class car coming in a year or two. [An aside: A sport wagon is best epitomized by vehicles like BMW's 3 and 5 Series wagons, Volvo V50 and V70, and Saab's 93 and 95. They are not SUV stand-ins like the B-car.]
It's no better at GM, where Cadillac will get a version of the Saturn Vue/Pontiac Equinox, and Buick is seen as a better home for upscale trucks than GMC. Then there are the various and sundry competing crossovers coming, many of which are still in the pipeline despite the rearrangement of the divisional marketing messages. Even DaimlerChrysler has gotten the disease, what with "soft-road" Jeeps based on a front-drive passenger car, the Mercedes R-Class "sport wagon" that competes with its own E-Class wagon, and indeterminate plans to bring the B-Class over here as a mighty-mite SUV. Thank God the US was spared the e.e. cummings-inspired SMART franchise, otherwise the FORFOUR would have broken cover here as an ersatz off-roader this year.
Even vaunted BMW is developing "people carriers" that, like their SUVs, are based on car platforms and offer all-wheel-drive. These are spacious transports with sporting overtones, dripping with luxury features, and-I must assume-aimed at executives in need of fast ground transport that doubles as an office or as a way to ferry their obstreperous offspring without resorting to a Ritalin-induced coma. Even Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar, bastions of sporting cars, are planning similar vehicles. Like their more mainstream brethren, they are tagged as "segment busters" when, in point of fact, they are nothing more than another entry in a crowded SUV marketplace. It's not just Ford. Everybody has the disease.
This state of affairs became inevitable as competition increased in a mature market. It forced OEMs to look for vehicles that met the public's desire for space, carrying capacity, all-weather traction, and style in unique packaging. Only the packaging isn't unique. It's the same vehicle set done by different companies! Nevertheless, the result is typical for this industry: crossovers, soft-roaders, and SUVs from every platform, even when they compete against their siblings. They multiply like rabbits and cover the roads like you-know-what from a goose and everyone holds their breath to see what happens. Then it all starts again when the "next big thing" is discovered. For such a supposedly mature and scientifically based industry, the results are so...childlike.