It seems barely a week goes by without someone in the car industry launching or announcing a new SUV.
It’s simple economics, really: people love the things. And, even better for manufacturers, the demand is truly global. They’re hugely popular in the USA, Europe and, crucially, China, which means one product – with a few tweaks – can be sold in a range of vastly differing markets.
That’s huge for car manufacturers, because differing tastes have previously made developing ‘global cars’ a difficult challenge. How do you develop a product that meets the demands of, say, the British and American markets when the best-selling car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta, while in the US it’s the Ford F-150 pick-up truck?
But SUVs are proving universally popular, and that’s giving manufacturers to capitalise on increasing economies of scale. A desire to sell in China is partly why Skoda dropped the Yeti name for its recently launched Karoq. The Kona is the latest example of a global SUV: it was styled in California, but it will be sold worldwide with just a few regional variations (for example, Europe will get smaller turbocharged engines and differing suspension).
Speaking at the Kona’s launch about designing a car for a global market, Luc Donckerwolke, Hyundai’s head of design, said: “What seemed to be really difficult before is actually getting simpler by the day. Globalisation is levelling a lot of parameters. For example, Chinese tastes used to be incompatible with the global market, but their taste in cars is changing by the day – it’s getting really close to what the American market is doing.”
While that is good news for car manufacturers looking for maximum efficiency, Donckerwolke did admit to some reservations as a designer. “It’s a bit sad to have such globalisation,” he added. “It’s changing the landscape of our cities. Cars are now a more common denominator.”
It’s hard to argue with Donckerwolke’s reservations. Within a five-minute walk of the hotel I’m staying at for the Kona launch in Seoul I counted eight – eight! – Starbucks. Partial as I am to the odd grande skinny cappuccino, that seems a dilution of local colour.
There will always be some regional variety, of course. It’s as unlikely that the US will fall out of love with pick-up trucks as it is that Britain will fall in love with them.