Back in the day, the term SUV was not actually all that common. And yet, it seems like most people have already forgotten about the old generic words. Now, instead of ‘jeep’ and ‘land-rover’, we use SUV, crossover, 4×4, and even off-roader. What is the deal with that? Let’s see!
A bit of SUV history
The sport utility vehicle (SUV) has somewhat of a messy development. So much so that there is no consensus on what constitutes a proper SUV. Even automobile manufacturers have not agreed on a single definition. This is why you can see the same vehicle classes advertised in different ways. But we should take a step back.
We can trace the roots of modern SUVs back to the WWII era. In 1941, the first mass-produced 4×4 hit the army. Its brand? Jeep! It became so commonly used during the war effort that people started seeing its utility outside the army as well. Of course, there was a good reason for that.
The early Jeeps were a sturdy bunch of vehicles. They could take on rough terrain and were also easy to repair. Nobody had a tough time finding spare parts, because the vehicles were popular. During the years the ‘jeep’ term became a staple. After all, no one knew what to call these vehicles anyway.
Jumping on the jeep bandwagon
Seeing the success of the American Jeep, other companies decided to go on with their own version of the vehicle. However, the only automaker that managed to give Jeep a run for their money was the British Land Rover.
Arguably, the Rover was an actual upgrade. Jeeps had an open-bodied design and thus were not of much use to the Brits. A land that sees heavy rain throughout the year needs something that can handle it. So when people saw the ruggedness of the Jeep brand mixed with the utility of a close-bodied design, they made their decision.
However, both Jeep and Land Rover did quite well on the market. Competition between them was not as extreme. So with time, ‘land rover’ also became a generalized term for rough-terrain vehicles.
In and of itself this development of events is something quite rare. There are not many cases where two brands in the same niche both manage to make their products a staple general name. Granted, ‘jeep’ was and still is the more common term, but ‘land-rover’ is not far behind.
The first true sport utility vehicle
Okay, you already know how the whole SUV thing began. But that is not the whole story. While Jeep made a great off-road vehicle back in 1941, it was no modern SUV. Actually, more than 40 years passed before a true SUV model came to production. Are you curious to know who beat Jeep to the punch this time around? No one!
If the term ‘jeep’ had not already been lodged in people’s minds, by the end of 1984 it definitely would be. This was the year when the Cherokee XJ came out and paved the way for modern SUVs. The thing that made it so special was the fact that it was no longer a niche car. It started flooding the automobile market and other companies noticed that regular sedans are going to be in trouble.
From 1941 to 1984 there was little development in the niche. Land Rover pioneered the station wagon, which was somewhat of a cross between an off-road vehicle and a sedan. However, people in the States never grew fond of that. But while Land Rover was wondering why the station wagon is unpopular, Jeep decided to step forward with their more interesting alternative.
The funny thing is that the Cherokee XJ was actually designed to be a station wagon with more off-road capabilities. It was actually marketed as a Sportswagon. Who knew that this was exactly what people wanted?
The rise of the SUV
After 1984 the automobile industry changed its course. Jeep had managed to create a fairly affordable vehicle that could take a beating while transporting a family of five. And they somehow managed to score a great design as well. Thus the Cherokee XJ became not only the mechanical pioneer of the SUV niche but also the design one.
Other manufacturers were quick to follow. They saw the demand and decided to do something about it. Over the course of several years the SUVs grew in popularity, and by the 1990’s they became the most profitable vehicle category. Actually, the industry started losing money on smaller cars.
This trend has not died since. While Europe has a soft spot for small and fuel-efficient vehicles, Americans prefer beefier machines. Even minivans suffer, as families would rather opt for an SUV, which at least in theory provides more flexibility.
Because of all that the industry has shifted towards bigger vehicles in the US, as the profit margins are insane. Case in point: Ford will stop making cars by 2022 – they will instead focus on pickups, SUVs, and crossovers. Speaking of crossovers…
What is the difference between SUVs, crossovers, and 4×4?
In the beginning, off-road vehicles had a clear idea – they were made to handle rough terrain. But with time the roads got bigger, better and spanned the entire continent. So people started to look towards SUVs because of their reliability, size, and comfort, rather than their off-road utility.
There is a notion that taller and more rugged cars are actually safer and easier to drive. This is why smaller SUVs (like the RAV4) are often the primary choice of younger safety-conscious drivers. The fact that they break less easily is also a benefit. After all, college students are not known for having piles of money laying around.
So with the changing use of SUVs, car manufacturers figured out they could offer something that caters even more to the majority of people. Thus the crossover was born.
Much like the SUV, there is no clear definition of crossover either. The line between the two is rather blurred and most people cannot tell the difference. Maybe that is because “crossover” was actually invented as a marketing term for the city-dweller’s SUV.
Right now SUVs and crossovers fill the same niche. A little to the side of them is the 4×4. It is generally accepted that the best off-road vehicles are actually 4-wheel drives or 4x4s. That is the alternative to front-, rear- and all-wheel drives. These can be found in crossovers and SUVs, and are considered inferior on rough terrain.
So you can think of SUVs and crossovers as the same thing, which is targeted towards everybody. On the other hand, 4x4s are for those of you who regularly hike the mountains, enjoy skiing and like tackling rough ground. But while all of these are thought to be rugged, well-built and reliable, this begs the question…
Can an SUV last you a lifetime?
Have you ever heard the term “planned obsolescence”? In the tech niche, it refers to creating products, which are bound to become obsolete rather quickly. You can usually see that with phones, which some people replace every year. Has this come to the car market as well?
Thankfully, there are no 1-year vehicle cycles yet, but manufacturers still push you to change your car every 4 or 5 years. However, in the car niche people are not okay with it. Even younger folks tend to cling to their cars for as long as possible. And, interestingly enough, SUVs seem to be the perfect candidates for that.
You can see millennials driving their 10-year-old RAV4s, CR-Vs or some other noteworthy SUV. Actually, these cars are holding their own quite well. People have even started buying them used, because of their reliability and fairly cheap maintenance.
If you have such an SUV, we advise you to keep it as long as possible. Wherever you move, take it with you. But if you do not have one yet, you should consider buying. The used market is a great place to look. If you want to find a good price, check with out-of-state sellers as well. And when you find the one that clicks with you, we will be there help you with car shipping.