Giving the Off-Roader a Fresh Sparkle

Giving the Off-Roader a Fresh Sparkle


ŠKODA enters with the all-new KODIAQ the large Sport Utility Vehicle segment. It’s time to take stock: Why is the SUV market booming? And where is it going?

7. 9. 2016

It’s not a bad sign for a car owner when jokes about your favourite mode of transport suddenly start making the rounds. On the contrary – when a mobility trend unexpectedly becomes the butt of comedians’ jokes, then it can only mean that it has finally become an integral part of popular culture. “How you can tell that your SUV is too big,” for example, is the name of an amusing website. Suggestions: “It has its own gravitational field and pulls other cars into its orbit.” “Two well frequented cafés have opened on the back seat.” Or: “You need an oxygen tank to reach the elevated driver’s seat.”

It’s likely that the people who dreamed up these not-unkind quips are SUV drivers themselves, and are drawing on their own treasure trove of experience. The likelihood is, statistically speaking, high: Since the 2000s, these vehicles with their tall bodies and off-road tyres have increasingly come to dominate our cities. The popularity of Sport Utility Vehicles among urban populations in the USA was already growing rapidly back in the 1990s – and has meanwhile become the most significant contemporary vehicle trend worldwide since then.

The compact SUV is the Swiss knife of cars.

Lutz Fügener, Professor of Transportation Design


About nine years after the market launch of the OCTAVIA Combi Scout, seven years after the YETI debuted and a good six months after presenting the VISIONS concept car, ŠKODA has just introduced a new, and unexpected SUV: the KODIAQ, named after a species of bear that lives on an island off the coast of Alaska. The announcement provides a good opportunity to take a closer look at the SUV phenomenon.

First the figures. According to a survey conducted by the automotive market research company JATO Dynamics, the number of new SUV registrations reached 3.2 million in Europe alone in 2015. Compared to 2014, that is an increase of 24 percent and represents a jump to a whopping 22.5 percent of overall share of the European vehicle market. That means that SUVs have become the most successful segment for the first time, just ahead of the subcompacts, and far ahead of the compact-class cars. 

If you consider that the number of all new vehicle registrations (according to the same study) in Europe between 2014 and 2015 increased by 9.3 percent, then another, even more significant, conclusion seems obvious: SUVs are currently driving the growth of the entire industry, despite continuing to remain a contentious phenomenon.

The SUV boom in facts and figures

How the European vehicle market grew between 2014 and 2015 – and how SUVs have even overtaken compact cars in their share of new registrations (Source: JATO Dynamics).


The SUV has, now that it’s 2016, long since carved out a place of its own in society. As a family car, an elegant urban vehicle, a symbol of unlimited personal driving pleasure. Sometimes it is all of this at once. “In a sense, the compact SUV is the Swiss knife of cars,” says Lutz Fügener, Professor of Transportation Design at the Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences. “People who drive it have the feeling of being able to do everything, of being prepared for practically anything.” 

Fügener also considers the origins of Europe’s enthusiasm for the SUV to have emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s – and the resulting opening of the former Eastern bloc countries to Europe and the USA. “Big SUVs in particular were very much in demand in the eastern markets in the early 1990s. A number of different factors played a role in this: a heightened desire for security, the inferior road conditions in many places and the general idea of how to present yourself in public as a car driver.” 

Some of the models that were developed with an eye to demand in the East were then sold – as streamlined versions – in western markets with similar success. Viewed in this light, the SUV boom can also be attributed to a marketing coup by the automobile industry. It then took hold in a number of economically emerging countries, such as China and India. Most recently, sales of luxury, imported vehicles took a palpable turn on the Chinese market, however this has scarcely affected the trend to off-roaders there. A company like ŠKODA that produces locally in China, for example, can also report growth in YETI sales in the Asian markets for 2016.

The SUV trend is most pronounced in Portugal

European countries in comparison: how the number of new SUV registrations increased in 2015
(Source: JATO Dynamics)


Even though it would be more conducive to an analysis, the typical SUV driver cannot be characterised with broad strokes. Their expectations can only be approximated by means of observation and assertions.

Assertion 1: In 2016, very few buyers actually plan to drive around forests and mountain landscapes – as customer surveys that the University of Applied Sciences in Pforzheim works with, for example, indicate. They also reveal that the off-road and “roughing-it” gene inherent in the SUVs have largely become a matter of aesthetics. 

Assertion 2: The high seating, the good overall view, the feeling of being well-armoured against any traffic hazards – all of these things merge to form the emotional essence of the fascination. And this could explain why women, in particular, like this car type so much. According to a comprehensive study conducted by the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, the number of German women who bought SUVs doubled between 2008 and 2013 alone. “There is also a philosophical aspect to it,” says expert Fügener.

“Car drivers today consider themselves less as members of a community – and more as a collection of individuals. From this perspective, driving an SUV it is also a conscious, image-creating statement to the outside world.”

And last but not least, Assertion 3: The generous amount of room provided speaks for the SUV in terms of general everyday practicality. People who might have bought minivans in the past, in order to transport the entire family plus luggage, will now choose the urban off-roader, because it comes closer to fulfilling their desire for variability. As already stated: a motorised Swiss knife, prepared for any situation. Everything, just not luxury for its own sake.

“I can drive an SUV to a prestigious business appointment, could, theoretically, go into battle and still take the kids to school safely” – as transport sociologist Christian Lasse  Mevert so trenchantly summarised in an interview with the German news service Spiegel Online.

“However, today’s SUVs could do with a somewhat lighter touch in terms of the design,” Fügener admits. “As the vehicle’s bulkiness serves no real purpose in cities, you could make it more elegant and defensive using creative means. It is unlikely to do any harm to the reputation of this vehicle class.” 

Similar thoughts played a role when ŠKODA was developing the KODIAQ. “For us, what mattered was a freer interpretation of the design, one that liberated itself from what would be expected in the segment,” says Guido Haak, Head of Product Management at ŠKODA. “We wanted a highly emotional, sporty, exceptionally well-designed product which simultaneously manages to be suitable for everyday use, have a high level of utility and provide a cost-benefit ratio that is hard to find in the competition.”

The YETI’s design reveals the off-road DNA of the compact SUV class even more distinctly. It paved the way in the off-roader segment for ŠKODA and the KODIAQ, which is set to arrive in the second half of 2016.
The YETI’s design reveals the off-road DNA of the compact SUV class even more distinctly. It paved the way in the off-roader segment for ŠKODA and the KODIAQ, which is set to arrive in the second half of 2016.

After the highly successful compact model, the YETI, ŠKODA is now getting ready for the first step into the business of big SUVs. At 4.7 meters in length, 1.88 meters in width and 1.68 meters in height, the KODIAQ is, on the one hand, distinctly larger than other cars in the compact car segment and has room for seven occupants. At the same time the muscular and dynamic lines radiate a robust elegance that distinguishes it markedly from the more bulky, boxy form usually found in this vehicle segment – often a mere reminder of past eras of off-road-only driving.


“The KODIAQ will make a statement,” Haak announces. “Just like a SUPERB limousine makes a statement today. ŠKODA stands for confident design.” Strategically, the KODIAQ is another step forward for the brand. When launched in spring 2009, the YETI was a compact SUV debut that was based on the size, space concept and features of the ŠKODA portfolio existing at the time. “The topic of utility has always played a central role in our brand,” says Haak. “Especially in regard to SUVs, we have long since distanced ourselves from our previous reputation as a “beast of burden”. That impacts on the design language and dynamics – the first generation Yeti was certainly much more faithful to the more traditional interpretation. We wanted a highly emotional, sporty, exceptionalLY well-designed product.”

All of the ŠKODA KODIAQ’s lines are clear, precise and clean-cut. The wide, three-dimensional radiator grille is striking and conveys the robust character.
All of the ŠKODA KODIAQ’s lines are clear, precise and clean-cut. The wide, three-dimensional radiator grille is striking and conveys the robust character.

The KODIAQ can now build on the popularity, success and solid reputation that its little brother has earned in the off-roader class. The next level is kicking off: This vehicle will allow ŠKODA to reach a new customer base; ones who may potentially be taking a more intense interest in the brand for the first time.

How does the manufacturer deal with the objections to SUVs regarding fuel consumption and space economy? “We continue to use all the resources at our disposal to keep optimising our internal combustion engines and make them cleaner,” says Haak. “Furthermore, the electrification of SUVs will, sooner or later, start moving ahead. This could become reality for our next generation of cars.”

There is somewhere that gives us a glimpse of the future: The golden era of the SUV will not be ending anytime soon, as Haak predicts – if anything, effortlessness and variability will increase in the segment, making it more accessible to the outside. Crossover utility vehicles, which are moving further and further away from the old, box-like off-road vehicles, could gain significance. “The boundaries between the SUV segment and sporty types of vehicles, such as coupés, sedans or hatchbacks, will become increasingly blurred,” says Haak. “The cars will become more dynamic and less boxy. Furthermore, the share that SUVs account for in the compact vehicle segment will continue to grow” – in other words, the sizes that ŠKODA already caters to today with models like FABIA and RAPID.

Which lasting value will the Sport Utility Vehicle have? Design Professor Lutz Fügener considers it this way: “The VW campervan, for example, continued to be a hit for decades because its level of utility is so high. If we can retain this value for the SUV, and avoid forcing it out of these vehicles bit by bit, it could end up becoming a similar classic.” 

Antique SUV shows in the year 2040, where collectors lovingly run their hands over the radiator grill of their well-preserved YETI or Tiguan? Anything is possible.

Photo: ŠKODA AUTO a.s.

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