Europe's Flirt With SUVs

Europeans have long distained the chunky, gas-guzzling SUV, which together with light trucks make up over 50 percent of US auto sales. Nearly 60% of vehicle sales in Europe in 2006 were sedans or compacts and 13% were wagons. Only 7.1% were SUVs.

But that small fraction is already a mini revolution. The market share of SUVs in Europe has actually doubled from 3.5% in 2000, making SUVs the fastest-growing segment in the European market. Designer sport-utes by BMW, Porsche (like the Cayenne pictured above), Mercedes, VW and Audi are sparking a newfound Continental affection for SUVs — albeit more stylish and upmarket models than those typically seen in most American shopping malls.

BMW designer Adrian von Hooydonk in particularly has a knack for making clunky beautiful. Take a look at the BMW X5 and the baby BMW X3. These models also drive like rockets - luring Europeans who demand a great ride into the driver’s seat.

The question is, how far will this new attraction go? I bet SUVs can capture 10 percent of the European market in the coming years. One reason: Sales of luxury SUVs globally remain robust, while mass-market models are getting squeezed by high gasoline prices. Well-heeled buyers who can shell out $40,000 and up for an SUV don’t need to worry about the price of a fillup.

European SUVs already run on clean diesel, giving them the kind of mileage that hybrids offer. And watch for a new wave of green Euro-SUVs at the upcoming Frankfurt Auto Show starting Sept. 14. Even Porsche’s next-gen Cayenne (2009) is going to be available in hybrid version that gets 18 miles per gallon. Europe’s fling with SUVs that are stylish, posh and green has only just begun.

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