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HomeFeaturesThe rise of the crossover – And why hatchbacks still have a place in South Africa

The rise of the crossover – And why hatchbacks still have a place in South Africa

The landscape of the automotive world has changed dramatically since its inception, with all manner of vehicles of all shapes and sizes floating in and out of fashion.

Looking at today’s car market, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that seemingly every new model that joins the roads is an SUV, as this has been a trend for the past few years not just in South Africa, but all over the world.

Changing with the times

The newfound dominance of SUVs can be attributed to many factors, from changes in cultural tastes to concerns over a vehicle’s safety and practicality, but something that had undeniably had a big effect on the success of the practical vehicles is the rapid growth in popularity of crossovers.

Crossovers resemble an SUV’s body shape but are typically built upon the framework of hatchbacks – effectively creating a middle ground between the two in terms of size and price, at least in theory.

It’s this body type in particular that has gradually chipped away at the market share of other vehicles, most notably sedans, which have become an endangered species in South Africa outside of upmarket options like a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Hatchbacks, which have long been one of the most popular car shapes on account of their ease of use and more affordable price tags, have also been hurt by the crossover’s rise to power, as many brands now offer a hatch and mini-SUV within the same price bracket, with the latter often coming out on top in the sales charts.

Perhaps the most notable casualty in this war has been the famous Ford Fiesta, which was finally put on the chopping block this year as the Blue Oval decided to drop it in favour of models like the Puma – citing the ever-growing demand for SUVs as a key reason in its decision.

Hatchbacks vs crossovers

As previously mentioned, many crossovers use the same architecture and engines as their equivalent hatchback, with a few recent examples being the Ford Puma and Fiesta, the VW Taigo and Polo, the Peugeot 2008 and 208, and the Suzuki Fronx and Baleno.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with crossovers and there’s a lot of merit as to why people may prefer them in this day and age where your one and only set of wheels should ideally be a jack of all trades.

But, it is worth asking the question of whether or not a person should in all cases upscale to a crossover instead of a hatch, especially when there is a big price discrepancy for doing so.

Sometimes the gap between a brand’s crossovers and hatchbacks is not all that different, as is the case with units like the Hyundai i20 (R325,500 R455,900) and Venue (R320,900 R493,500), and the Kia Rio (R330,995 R389,995) and Sonet (R349,995R442,995).

Other times, though, the SUV can come at quite the premium, as shown by something like the VW T-Cross and Taigo which start at R399,000 and R482,100, respectively, compared to the Polo’s R348,200.

Of course, this isn’t a problem as the choice is in the buyer’s hands and a variety of options is amazing for the average consumer.

The real concern is when the market runs out of the more affordable hatchback body type as automakers concentrate more of their time and resources on SUVs.

For one, a lot of motorists may not need the increased ground clearance and boot space of crossovers (their two most common advantages over their hatch siblings), and the industry’s shift towards larger body types has also not done any favours for parking and driver visibility out on the road when you can no longer see past the cars around you.

Far more important, however, is the price discrepancy between the two vehicle types and how consumers are slowly losing access to the cheaper of the two.

The Ford Puma is the clear example here, as the company no longer provides the Fiesta and Focus hatches, nor even the more affordable EcoSport, and so the Blue Oval’s ostensible entry-level passenger car now sits at a minimum price tag of R569,900.

The point is that, in many cases, crossovers are not a 1:1 replacement for hatchbacks but are, in fact, an upgrade, and while that is great when consumers have the freedom to choose, it does present a risk that the average car price will escalate much faster than the average salary – not just because the new hatchback is more expensive than the old one, but because consumers are left no choice but to buy its pricier sibling instead.

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