The Bigger, The Better: Large SUVs Paced Industry Gains In April

May 3 2014, 12:48am CDT | by

Sales of large SUVs are coming back in a big way: Hulking utility vehicles — including the GMC Yukon, Toyota Land Cruiser and Ford Expedition — accounted for some of the very top percentage gains for major automakers in April compared with year-ago sales.

At least four factors could account for what seems to be a gathering boom in sales of some of the industry’s most expensive and highest-profit vehicles at this late stage of the U.S. auto-sales recovery, in a segment long given up for moribund.

First, rebounding confidence in the economy may be creating significant lift under sales of the heaviest SUVs. Second, gasoline prices have continued their recent stabilization between about $3.50 and $3.90 a gallon, sidelining the segment’s subpar gas mileage as a concern for many.

Third, more consumers are realizing that America’s new long-term security in domestic hydrocarbon-energy supplies provides some protection against their roomy new SUV becoming a dinosaur in a year or two.

And, fourth, there are some great new vehicles in this segment. General Motors completely recast its Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon this year, and the Toyota Highlander has been totally redesigned.

Interestingly, a mini-renaissance in this segment had the leaders achieving even higher-percentage year-on-year gains than pickup trucks, the industry’s other massive-profit category. And while small-business purchases of pickup trucks are a huge determinant of the trend in that segment, sales of SUVs are much more directly a reflection of consumer attitudes and financial capabilities.


  • GMC Yukon sales rose by 137 percent in April over a year earlier, to 3,733 units, as GM filled the pipeline with units of the vastly redesigned new model. That percentage gain ranked No. 2 in the company’s entire model range. And for the year to date, Yukon sales were up 21 percent. Meanwhile, sales of the also-new Chevrolet Suburban rose by 32 percent in the month (although they were down by 12 percent for the year).
  • Sales of Toyota Land Cruiser were up by 25 percent for April and by 9 percent for the year to date, though at the low overall volume of 1,043 units. Meanwhile, sales of the high-volume 4Runner, about 1,400 pounds lighter than Land Cruiser, rose by 64 percent for the month and 30 percent for the year to date. And sales of Highlander, just 300 pounds lighter than 4Runner — backed by the model’s appealing redesign — surged by 28 percent for the month and 23 percent for the year, to 48,254 vehicles.
  • Even one of the oldest and heaviest SUVs in business, Ford Expedition, which hasn’t had a significant makeover in several years, found 35 percent more buyers in April than a year earlier, making it the No. 2-gaining nameplate across the Ford brand in percentage terms last month. For the year, Expedition sold 16 percent more.

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