Last Updated on May 12, 2023 by Victor A

SUVs have become a popular choice among car buyers in recent years. These vehicles offer spacious interiors, higher ground clearance, and a more rugged design compared to sedans and other traditional car models. But when did SUV cars become popular?

Here we are going to take a closer look at the history of SUVs and explore the factors that led to their rise in popularity.

Early years and first popular models

The origins of SUVs can be traced back to the 1930s when companies like Chevrolet and Ford started producing larger, more robust vehicles for off-road use.

These early SUVs were primarily used for military purposes, but their rugged design and capabilities soon caught the attention of civilian buyers as well.

We could say that the 1990s is when SUV cars started to become popular.

One of the key factors that led to the rise of SUVs was their versatility. These vehicles could handle off-road terrain while also providing ample space for passengers and cargo.

Additionally, the higher ride height and larger size of SUVs gave drivers a feeling of safety and security on the road.

In the early 1990s, automakers like Ford and General Motors began introducing new SUV models, such as the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Tahoe.

These vehicles were marketed as family-friendly options that could handle a variety of driving conditions.

And with their popularity growing, other manufacturers quickly followed suit, with companies like Toyota and Nissan introducing their SUVs in the mid-1990s.

1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

Their popularity attracted criticism

As the popularity of SUVs grew, so did the criticism. Environmentalists criticized SUVs for their poor gas mileage and contribution to air pollution.

Some safety advocates also raised concerns about the high center of gravity and increased risk of rollover accidents associated with SUVs.

However, these concerns did little to slow the popularity of these vehicles.

The 2007-2008 crisis

By the early 2000s, SUVs had become a mainstay on American roads, However, the rise of gas prices and changing consumer preferences in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis led to a decline in SUV sales.

As the crisis unfolded, consumers began to shift their preferences away from larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles like SUVs and toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

One of the main reasons for this shift in consumer preferences was the sharp rise in gasoline prices.

In the years leading up to the crisis, the price of gasoline had been relatively stable, but in 2007 and 2008, prices spiked, reaching record highs. As a result, consumers were increasingly looking for vehicles that were more fuel-efficient and cost-effective to operate.

Sales of SUVs and other large vehicles began to decline sharply, and many automakers were left with large inventories of unsold vehicles.

Some manufacturers responded by offering deep discounts and other incentives to try to move their inventory, but overall, the SUV market remained sluggish.

As the crisis deepened and the economy continued to struggle, automakers began to shift their focus towards fuel efficiency and smaller, more eco-friendly vehicles over the larger, more rugged SUVs of the past.

Post-financial crisis growth

After the financial crisis, the popularity of SUVs resumed growing, driven by several factors such as changing consumer preferences, advancements in technology, and an increase in fuel-efficient models.

One key trend that emerged in the SUV market was the rise of crossover SUVs. These vehicles combine the spacious interiors and high-riding position of traditional SUVs with the handling and fuel efficiency of smaller cars.

Crossover SUVs quickly gained popularity among consumers, with models like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape becoming best-sellers in their respective categories.

Another factor that contributed to the continued popularity of SUVs was the introduction of new, more fuel-efficient models. In the years following the financial crisis, automakers invested heavily in developing more eco-friendly SUVs, such as hybrid and electric models. 

These vehicles offered consumers the best of both worlds: the size and versatility of an SUV, with the improved fuel economy of a smaller car.

Furthermore, the advancements in technology and safety features also played a significant role in the growth of SUV popularity.

Many SUV models started featuring advanced safety systems, such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking.

These features have helped to improve the overall safety of SUVs and increased their appeal to consumers who prioritize safety.

The current popularity of 2023 SUVs

As of 2023, crossovers and SUVs remain the most popular types of vehicles on the market. 

Just so you get an idea, SUVs alone accounted for 46% of global car sales in 2022.

One of the main reasons for the continued popularity of SUVs is their versatility. SUVs come in a variety of sizes, from compact crossovers to full-size luxury models, making them suitable for a wide range of consumer needs.

The popularity of SUVs has also been fueled by advancements in technology and design. Many new SUV models offer improved fuel economy, which has helped to alleviate some of the concerns about the environmental impact of these vehicles.

Additionally, many new SUVs now feature sleek, modern designs that appeal to consumers who value style and aesthetics.

The introduction of electric and hybrid SUVs, which offer the size and versatility of traditional SUVs with lower emissions and improved fuel efficiency, will fuel the continued growth of SUVs in the coming years.

So, to answer the question: When did SUV cars become popular? We could argue that the trend started getting a lot of momentum from 1990 till 2007, and after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the popularity skyrocketed.



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