Essais > Estates and MPVs stand up to urban 4x4s0000

Estates and MPVs stand up to urban 4x4s0000

 - 20/04/2016

SUVs, “crossovers” and other urban 4x4s have won the hearts of families around Europe, but judging by the new vehicles on display in Geneva, some brands are continuing to entice their customers with estates and MPVs.

The aisles of the 86th Geneva International Motor Show, which opens its doors to the media on Tuesday, will be teeming with new high-clearance cars without any off-road pretensions whatsoever, a sector which now accounts for close to a quarter of the European market.
As an illustration, VW, the continent’s leading group, will be presenting a full series of crossovers: the Seat Ateca, Audi Q2, Skoda’s prototype VisionS, plus a small urban version under the Volkswagen brand.

Toyota, the world’s number one car-maker, will be bringing out its final version of the small C-HR crossover, with a design and look that are as rugged as the Nissan Juke, whose clientele it has firmly in its sights.

Maserati (Fiat Chrysler group) which, until now, was synonymous with saloons and powerful coupés, will be revealing its first-ever SUV, the Levante, in an attempt to ruffle the feathers of the Porsche Cayenne.

Renault, king of the road in Europe in the small crossover sector (B-segment, Clio-size models) with its Captur and which last year brought out its big brother, the Kadjar, is this year bucking the trend.

This year, the French car-maker will be unveiling the fourth generation of the Scénic, which it first produced in 1996, and which went on to dominate the compact MPV market in Europe.
However, the third version, launched in 2009, proved less successful than its previous incarnations, with average annual sales of 110,000 vehicles over the past three years, compared with 300,000 a decade ago.

Crossover sales, led by the Nissan Qashqai, have gone beyond this and in 2015 they occupied top spot in Europe with a 22.5% market share, according to the company Jato Dynamics. MPVs accounted for just 10.5%, a 10% fall on 2014.

“Market share gained by crossovers has been lost by MPVs as well as estates”, according to François Jaumain, a consultant at PwC.

The return of the Volvo estate

Urban 4x4s are far from running out of steam, however, warns Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR): “SUVs and pick-ups represent 60% of the American market, so there’s still room for manoeuvre in Europe”. IHS predicts a more than doubling of segment-B crossover sales by 2022.

What is Renault’s interest in continuing to promote its Scénic in a declining niche market? “Car-makers are not going to completely abandon MPVs overnight in order to only build crossovers”, explains François Jaumain, for whom “a vehicle such as the Scénic is still in demand”.

In fact, two compact MPVs are among the “top 10” sellers in France: the Scénic, in sixth place, and the Citroën C4 Picasso, in tenth, with both available in 5- and 7-seater versions. And while some brands have given up on this segment of the market, generalist German car-makers Volkswagen, Ford and Opel have maintained their faith in it. BMW has also successfully launched its 2 Series Active Tourer.

What MPVs do have in their favour is that “in general, their interior modularity is slightly superior” to that of an SUV, according to Yann Lacroix, an expert at the insurer Euler Hermès.

In the crossover market, the Scénic 4, with its toned design, features extra ground clearance, according to Renault, which in Geneva will also be showcasing its new Mégane Estate, a sector that has also been eroded by SUVs.

Another new estate, the large V90, will be on display at Volvo’s stand. This marks a return to its roots for the Swedish manufacturer (now owned by the Chinese company Geely) which was the de facto specialist in this market before turning to SUVs.

“With the new V90, I can detect Volvo’s desire to stand up to the supremacy of German car-makers Audi, Mercedes and BMW, who reign supreme in the highly profitable category of “premium” estates”, explains François Jaumain. Meanwhile, amid a plethora of Asian SUVs, South Korean manufacturer will also be bringing out its estate version of its spacious Optima saloon.