Thursday, 18 January 2018
Car News

Chevy armed for small-crossover boom


The ’18 Chevrolet Equinox: Lighter, roomier than its predecessor.

CHICAGO — The last time Chevrolet redesigned the Equinox, it was a middling nameplate in a promising niche of the market.

Eight years later, the Equinox is one of General Motors’ most critical and highest-volume vehicles, outselling everything in the lineup but the Chevy Silverado. And compact crossovers are on pace to be the industry’s biggest segment this year for the first time ever, displacing long-dominant family sedans.

Chevy is mobilizing to take greater advantage of that shift by unveiling a third generation of the Equinox to complement a faster-than-usual freshening of its smaller sibling, the Trax. The 2018 Equinox drops 400 pounds, gains some much-needed interior space and gets a trio of more efficient, turbocharged engines, including a segment-exclusive diesel option.

“There’s no doubt this is where the market is going,” said Steve Majoros, Chevy’s marketing director for cars and crossovers.

Chevy crossovers

The Chevrolet Equinox and Trax rank 5th in their segments in U.S. sales through August.
COMPACT CROSSOVERS
     
  2016 Sales Change
1. Honda CR-V 231,609 0.90%
2. Toyota RAV4 230,942 15%
3. Nissan Rogue 215,160 14%
4. Ford Escape 209,699 2.50%
5. Chevrolet Equinox 158,475 –18%
     
SUBCOMPACT CROSSOVERS
     
  2016 Sales Change
1. Jeep Renegade 70,088 152%
2. Subaru Crosstrek 60,549 2.10%
3. Honda HR-V 51,417 109%
4. Buick Encore 49,187 13%
5. Chevrolet Trax 45,598 24%
Source: Automotive News Data Center

Chevy waited only about 18 months after bringing the Trax to the U.S. to update it, a testament to the tiny vehicle’s outsize importance. The 2017 Trax, with additional active-safety features, a revamped front end and a new 7-inch touch screen, is arriving at dealerships this fall. 

The Trax freshening extends Chevy’s advantage over rivals such as Ford, Toyota and Hyundai that don’t yet sell a subcompact crossover in the U.S. It also is likely to help Chevy gain ground on the segment-leading Jeep Renegade, Subaru Crosstrek and Honda HR-V. Until now, the South Korean-built Trax had suffered from a more dated design than competitors, having gone on sale overseas in 2012 before arriving stateside in late 2014. 

“This segment has kind of come out of nowhere,” Majoros said. “The number of competitors has exploded.” 

Compact and subcompact crossovers accounted for 17 percent of U.S. new-vehicle sales in the first eight months of this year. That’s up from 13 percent in all of 2013.

Chevrolet hopes the freshened Trax will gain on the segment leaders. Photo credit: GM

The Equinox became Chevy’s top-selling nonpickup in 2015, when it surpassed the Cruze sedan. But it ranks fifth in its segment, with the redesigned model aiming to improve on that. 

“It’s a very safe bet that for the next few years this is going to be the second most important vehicle in their lineup,” said Ivan Drury, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com. 

That’s because small crossovers appeal to a wide spectrum of buyers, including first-time car shoppers, new parents and empty nesters looking to downsize. 

“It’s become the default vehicle to consider,” Drury said. “Now this segment draws in everyone. It’s like the jack of all trades, though it’s not the best at any one type of thing.” 

Combined, the Equinox and Trax represent 21 percent of Chevy’s sales so far in 2016. They’re already strong conquest vehicles, with competitive makes accounting for more than half of trade-ins on Trax purchases, Chevy said. Nearly 60 percent of Trax buyers are women. 

The vehicles’ improved infotainment systems, more modern-looking cabins and sleeker exteriors give Chevy even more means to lure crossover shoppers. 

“More than other segments, these customers, frankly, want it all,” Alan Batey, GM’s president of North America, said before revealing the 2018 Equinox at an event in Chicago on Sept. 22, the date of the autumnal equinox. 

“They shop with a very long checklist, and we needed to develop a vehicle that allowed them to check off every box,” he said. “They’re looking for technology; they’re looking for safety and a beautiful design in a versatile, efficient package.”



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