1995 1998 Ford Explorer built on a light-truck chassis
A sport utility vehicle (SUV) is a generic marketing term for a vehicle similar to a station wagon, but built on a light-truck chassis. It is usually equipped with four-wheel drive for on- or off-road ability, and with some pretension or ability to be used as an off-road vehicle. Not all four-wheel-drive vehicles are termed as SUV. Some SUVs include the towing capacity of a pickup truck with the passenger-carrying space of a minivan or large sedan. Since SUVs are considered light trucks and often share the same platform with pick-up trucks, they were regulated less strictly than passenger cars under the two laws in the United States, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act for fuel economy, and the Clean Air Act for emissions. Starting in 2004, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to hold sport utility vehicles to the same tailpipe emissions standards as cars.
The term is not used in all countries, and outside North America the terms "off-road vehicle", "four-wheel drive" or "four-by-four" (abbreviated to "4WD" or "4x4") or simply use of the brand name to describe the vehicle like "Jeep" or "Land Rover" are more common. However, not all SUVs have four-wheel drive capabilities. Conversely, not all four-wheel-drive passenger vehicles are SUVs. Off-road vehicle is a broad class of vehicles, built primarily for off-road use. However, this distinction is often not made by the general public and the media. Although some SUVs have off-road capabilities, they often play only a secondary role, and SUVs often do not have the ability to switch among two-wheel and four-wheel-drive high gearing and four-wheel-drive low gearing. While auto makers tout an SUV's off-road prowess with advertising and naming, the daily use of SUVs is largely on paved roads and in urban areas.
Popular in the late-1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, SUVs sales have since declined due to high oil prices and a declining economy. The traditional truck-based SUV is gradually being supplanted by the crossover SUV, which uses an automobile platform for lighter weight and better fuel efficiency, as a response to much of the criticism of sport utility vehicles.
Although designs vary, SUVs have historically been mid-size passenger vehicles with a body-on-frame chassis similar to that found on light trucks. Early SUVs were mostly two-door models, and were available with removable tops. However, consumer demand pushed the SUV market towards four doors, by 2002 all full-size two-door SUVs were gone from the market. Only the Jeep Wrangler remained as a two-door SUV, although it was also joined by a four-door variant. Two-door SUVs were mostly carry-over models, and their sales were not viable enough to warrant a redesign at the end of their design cycle. Two-door SUV models increased in the 2010s with the release of the Range Rover Evoque and the Nissan Murano convertible, although both vehicles are unibody.
Most SUVs are designed with an engine compartment, a combined passenger and cargo compartment, and no dedicated trunk such as in a station wagon body. Most mid-size and full-size SUVs have three rows of seats with a cargo area directly behind the last row of seats. Cargo barriers are often fitted to the cargo area to protect the vehicles occupants from injury from unsecured cargo in the event of sudden deceleration or collision.
SUVs are known for high ground clearance, upright, boxy body, and high H-point. This can make them more likely to roll over due to their high center of gravity. Bodies of SUVs have recently become more aerodynamic, but the sheer size and weight keeps their fuel economy poor.
A Compact SUV is a class of smaller SUVs that are commonly built with less cargo and passenger space, achieve higher gas mileage and have lower MSRPs. They are also smaller and more maneuverable than their larger counterparts. These common models are currently sold in North America:
A Midsize SUV is a class of medium size SUVs that are usually smaller than full size SUVs but larger than compact SUVs. They have more cargo and passenger space but commonly achieve lower gas mileage and cost more to produce. They do however provide more power and durability than their smaller counterparts. Midsize SUVs are often considered a compromise between Compact SUVs and Full Size SUVs. These common models are currently sold in North America:
Full Size SUV
A Full Size SUV is a class of large size SUVs that are most often larger than Midsize SUVs and much larger than Compact SUVs. They feature expanded cargo and passenger space however usually achieve lower mileage and cost more to manufacture. Full Size SUVs are usually given higher safety ratings their small counterparts. They are also more durable and feature more power than both compact SUVs and Mid Size SUVs. These common models are currently sold in North America:
Jeep Cherokee: SUV trend-setter as designed by AMC
Early SUVs were descendants from commercial and military vehicles such as the World War II Jeep and Land Rover. SUVs have been popular for many years with rural buyers due to their off-road capabilities.
The earliest examples of longer-wheelbase wagon-type SUVs were the Chevrolet Carryall Suburban (1935, RWD only), GAZ-61 (1938, 4x4), Willys Jeep Wagon (1948), Pobeda M-72 (GAZ-M20/1955), which Russian references credit as possibly being the first modern SUV (with unitary body rather than body-on-frame), International Harvester Travelall (1953), Land Rover Series II 109 (1958), and the International Harvester Scout 80 (1961). These were followed by the more 'modern' Jeep Wagoneer (1963), International Harvester Scout II (1971), Ford Bronco (1966), Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-55 (1968), the Chevrolet Blazer / GMC Jimmy (1969), and the Land Rover Range Rover (1970). The actual term "sport utility vehicle" did not come into wide popular usage until the late 1980s; many of these vehicles were marketed during their era as station wagons.
According to the transportation curator at the Henry Ford Museum, Robert Casey, the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) was the first true sport utility vehicle in the modern understanding of the term. Developed under the leadership of AMC's Fran ois Castaing and marketed to urban families as a substitute for a traditional car (and especially station wagons, which were still fairly popular at the time), the Chrerokee had four-wheel drive in a more manageable size (compared to the full-size Wagoneer), as well as a plush interior resembling a station wagon. With the introduction of more luxurious models and a much more powerful 4-liter engine, sales of the Cherokee increased even higher as the price of gasoline fell, and the term "sport utility vehicle" began to be used in the national press for the first time. "The advent and immediate success of AMC/Jeep's compact four-door Cherokee turned the truck industry upside down."
The corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard was ratified in the 1970s to regulate the fuel economy of passenger vehicles. Car manufacturers evaded the regulation by selling SUVs as work vehicles. The popularity of SUV increased among urban drivers in the last 25 years, and particularly in the last decade. Consequently, modern SUVs are available with luxury vehicle features, and some crossover models adopt lower ride heights to accommodate on-road driving.
Keith Bradsher explained the rise of the SUV with American Motors' (AMC) lobbying the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a waiver of the United States Clean Air Act. The EPA subsequently designated AMC's compact Cherokee as a "light truck", and the company marketed the vehicle to everyday drivers. AMC's effort to affect rulemaking changing the official definition of their new model then led to the SUV boom when other auto makers marketed their own models in response to the Cherokee taking sales from their regular cars.
SUVs became popular in the United States, Canada, India and Australia in the 1990s and early-2000s. U.S. automakers could enjoy profit margins of $10,000 per SUV, while losing a few hundred dollars on a compact car. For example, the Ford Excursion could net the company $18,000, while they could not break even with the Ford Focus unless the buyer chose options, leading Detroit's big three automakers to focus on SUVs over small cars.
Small cars were sold mainly to attract young buyers with inexpensive options and to increase their fleet average fuel economies to meet federal standards. The relatively high wages of unionized auto workers in the U.S. and Canada (members of the UAW and CAW, respectively), compared to the low wages of non-union workers at non-U.S. companies like Toyota, made it unprofitable for the U.S. auto makers to build small cars. For example, the General Motors factory in Arlington, Texas where rear-wheel-drive cars were built, such as the Chevrolet Caprice, Buick Roadmaster, and Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham was converted to truck and SUV production, putting an end to full-size family station wagon and overall terminating production of rear-wheel drive full-size cars. Due to the shift in the Big Three's strategy, many long-running cars like the Ford Taurus, Buick Century and Pontiac Grand Prix fell behind their Japanese competitors in features and image (relying more on fleet sales instead of retail and/or heavy incentive discounts); some were discontinued.   
Ford Focus]] struck by a Ford Explorer SUV
Buyers were drawn to SUVs' large cabins, higher ride height, and perceived safety. Full-size SUVs often offered features such as three-row seating, to effectively replace full-size station wagons and minivans. Wagons were seen as old-fashioned. Additionally, full-size SUVs have greater towing capabilities than conventional cars, and can haul trailers, travel trailers (caravans) and boats. Increased ground clearance is useful in climates with heavy snowfall. The very low oil prices of the 1990s helped to keep down running costs. The SUV's image of utility may partly explain its popularity, not least among some women, who constitute more than half of SUV drivers in the U.S. The SUV was one of the most popular choices of vehicle for female drivers in the U.S.
Social scientists have drawn on popular folklore such as urban legends to illustrate how marketers have been able to capitalize on the feelings of strength and security offered by SUVs. Popular tales include narratives where mothers save the family from armed robbery and other incidents by taking the automobile off road, for example.
In Australia, SUV sales were helped by the fact that SUVs had much lower import duty than passengers cars did, so that they cost less than similarly equipped imported sedans. However, this gap was gradually narrowed, and in January 2010 the import duty on cars was lowered to match the 5 percent duty on SUVs.
Sales of SUVs and other light trucks fell in the mid-2000s because of high oil prices and declining economy. In June 2008, General Motors announced plans to close four truck and SUV plants, including the Oshawa Truck Assembly. The company cited decreased sales of large vehicles in the wake of rising fuel prices. The business model of focusing on SUVs and light trucks, at the expense of more fuel-efficient compact and midsized cars, is blamed for declining sales and profits among Detroit's Big Three automakers since the mid-late 2000s. The Big Three were slower to adapt than their Japanese rivals in producing small cars to meet growing demand due to inflexible manufacturing facilities, which made it unprofitable to build small cars. . However, starting in 2010 SUV and light truck sales have started an upward trend due to lower gas prices and a revival of the North American economy. 
Use in remote areas
SUVs are often driven off-road in places such as farmland and countryside and in countries such as the Australian Outback, Africa, the Middle East, Alaska, northern Canada, western United States, Iceland, South America, Russia and parts of Asia which have limited paved roads and require a vehicle to have all-terrain handling, increased range, and storage capacity. The scarcity of spare parts and the need to carry out repairs quickly resulted in the popularity of vehicles with the bare minimum of electric and hydraulic systems, such as the basic versions of the Land Rover, Jeep Wrangler, and Toyota Land Cruiser. SUVs for urban driving have traditionally been developed from their more rugged all-terrain counterparts. For example, the Hummer H1 was developed from the HMMWV, originally developed for the military of the United States.
As many SUV owners never used the off-road capabilities of their vehicle, newer SUVs (including crossovers) now have lower ground clearance and suspension designed primarily for paved roads.
SUVs are also chosen by some buyers as they have more interior space than sedans of similar sizes. In areas with gravel roads in summer and snow and ice in winter, four-wheel drives offer a safety advantage due to their traction advantages under these conditions.
The sport utility vehicles have also gained popularity in some areas of Mexico, specially where there is desert or in cities where drivers easily find potholes, detours, high water and rough roads. Their increasing use is also due to the fact that when traveling out of major populations, a high number of roads are dirt, washboard and mud in the rainy seasons.
Use in recreation and motorsport
Some highly modified SUVs, together with their more rugged off-road counterparts, are also used to explore places otherwise unreachable by other vehicles. In Australia, China, Europe, South Africa, South America and the United States at least, 4WD clubs have been formed for this purpose. Modified SUVs also take part in races, including the Paris-Dakar Rally, the Baja racing series, TREC events, King of the Hammers in California and the Australian Outback.
The Trophee Andros ice-racing series is another competition where SUVs participate as well.
Many 4x4 mud racing events and other activities take place throughout the US organized by clubs and associations.
The sport utility vehicles are used in many different kinds of tours around the world to reach places otherwise the tourist would not be able to enjoy.
Numerous luxury vehicles in the form of SUVs and pickup trucks are being produced. Luxury SUV is principally a marketing term to sell fancier vehicles which may have higher performance, comfort, technology, or brand image. The term lacks both measurability and verifiability, and it is applied to a broad range of SUV sizes and types.
Nevertheless, the marketing category was created in 1966 with Kaiser Jeep's luxurious Super Wagoneer. It was the first SUV to offer a V8 engine, automatic transmission, and luxury car trim and equipment in a serious off-road model. It came with bucket seating, air conditioning, sun roof, and even a vinyl roof. Land Rover followed suit in 1970 by releasing the Range Rover. The trend continued with other competitors adding comfort features to their rudimentary and truck-based models.
The production of luxury models increased in the late 1990s with vehicles such as the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade. These luxury SUVs generated higher profit margins than non-luxury SUVs did. For some auto makers, luxury SUVs were the first SUV models they produced. Some of these models are not traditional SUVs based on light truck as they are classified as crossovers.
The luxury SUV class encompasses both smaller 5-passenger SUVs and larger 7-passenger SUVs, with luxury features both inside of the cabin but also in the outside. People who look for a luxury vehicle that offers more cargo capacity than a sedan may prefer a luxury SUV. This is also a vehicle aimed for those who prefer an SUV with a little more style.
Luxury SUVs typically offer the most expected safety features including side airbags, ABS and traction control, and many of them also come with electronic stability control, crash resistant door pillars, dynamic head restraints and back-up sensing systems.
The U.S. News & World Report Rankings and Reviews ranks premium midsize SUVs and crossovers based on an in-depth analysis by its editors of published auto ratings, reviews and test drives. Ranking is based on the score on performance, exterior, interior, safety, and reliability obtained by the vehicles.
In Australia and New Zealand, the term "SUV" is not widely used, except by motoring organisations the press, and industry bodies. Passenger class vehicles designed for off-road use are known as 'four-wheel drives', '4WDs', or '4X4s'. Some manufacturers do refer to their products as SUVs, but others invented names such as XUV, (HSV Avalanche XUV or GMC Envoy XUV) or action utility vehicles (AUVs). The term 'AWD', or all-wheel drive, is used for any vehicle which drives on all four wheels, but may not be designed for off-road use. 'Crossover' is a marketing term for a vehicle which is both four-wheel-drive and primarily a road car.
The pejorative term "Toorak Tractor" is used in Australia to describe vehicles such as Range Rovers used in wealthy urban areas with fine roads, fine dining, and exclusive designer shopping precincts where off-road ability is not required. The term alludes to the affluent Melbourne suburb of Toorak and was used at least as early as the late 1980s. The equivalent term "Chelsea Tractor" became prominent in the United Kingdom around 2004 to describe vehicles such luxury SUVs used in urban areas such as Chelsea, London, where their four-wheel-drive capabilities are not required and the car is believed to be a status symbol rather than a necessity. The term "4X4" (four-by-four) is also common even for vehicles not used in urban areas, and "AWD" is not common in the UK.
In Norway the term "B rstraktor" (Bourse Tractor), meaning stock exchange tractor, serves a similar purpose.
In Finland the term "katumaasturi" is commonly used to designate SUVs. It roughly translates to street-off-roader, or street-4x4. This marks the difference with what is called "maasturi" which is a vehicle with off-road capability.
- Josh Lauer. "Driven to Extremes: Fear of Crime and the Rise of the Sport Utility Vehicle in the United States", Crime, Media, Culture, vol. 1, no. 2 (2005), pp. 149 168.
- Adam Penenberg. Tragic Indifference: One Man's Battle with the Auto Industry over the Dangers of SUVs. HarperBusiness. ISBN 0-06-009058-8.
- Gladwell, M. "Big and bad." (2004, January 12). The New Yorker, LXXIX, 28 30. Retrieved on 2008 05 12.
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