According to a report prepared by JATO Dynamics, SUVs accounted for almost 50% of all new car sales on the European market in 2022. These types of vehicles provide high comfort and a sense of security, but at the same time are characterized by less maneuverability and high fuel consumption. Is this sales trend likely to continue, and what impact will modern technologies have on it?
The advantages of SUVs that are most often mentioned, are the spacious interior, large trunk capacity, greater ease of traversing obstacles and the feeling of safety that comes from their massive build and high-profile cabin. But are SUVs safe? Real-world tests show that due to their higher center of gravity, they are less maneuverable and behave less predictably on the road than sedans, for example. In addition, the high bumper also generates more danger for pedestrians in the event of a collision. A sizable disadvantage of SUVs is also high fuel consumption, as they use up to 14% more fuel than sedans. The answer to this problem includes electric and hybrid SUVs, which have begun to gain popularity. Innovative material technologies in the form of ultralight EPP foamed polypropylene plastics are contributing to further improvements in this range of passenger vehicles.
SUV – what does it mean? What are the characteristics and types of SUVs?
The name SUV is a three-letter acronym for Sport Utility Vehicle. SUVs, however, are not sports cars, but rather combine the characteristics of various cars, including passenger cars and off-road vehicles. Their name alludes to the specific lifestyle of their users, including regular trips outside the city, and this requires a roomy trunk and an elevated body that allows them to easily overcome potential off-road obstacles. SUVs are not a homogeneous category – depending on the needs and use, several types of SUVs can be distinguished. The largest of them resemble off-road vehicles, also due to 4×4 drive, which is often a feature of this type of cars. Their representatives include the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Volkswagen Touareg. On the other hand, for easier maneuvering and parking in urban conditions, small and medium SUVs were created, which may have a slightly smaller trunk, have a one-axle drive or are characterized by a smaller capacity engine. So-called compact SUVs often include the Skoda Qaroq, BMW X3 and VW Tiguan, among others.
What makes SUVs different from off-road vehicles and crossovers?
Because SUVs combine the characteristics of even several types of vehicles, the terms "off-roader," "SUV" and "crossover" are often used interchangeably, although there are important differences between them. It's worth starting with the fact that SUVs are designed for family outings, not extreme off-road conditions. While they may be equipped with 4×4 drive, they do not have features typical for actual off-road vehicles, such as inter-axle locking or a reducer. So they won't do well in deep mud or water, which exceeds their ground clearance, for example. The most "urban" of the three types of vehicles is definitely a crossover. It has smaller dimensions than an SUV, making it easier to maneuver through narrow streets and car parks. It is also rarely equipped with four-wheel drive. In appearance, it looks more like a C-class car, only with a slightly higher suspension. The advantage of such a design is that it is easier to overcome holes in the road, curbs or speed bumps.
And what's the difference between an SUV and a sedan?
SUV and sedan are the two most common body types. Aside from the most obvious issues of shape, size and suspension height, these cars differ in handling, driving economy or power. The aerodynamic silhouette and low center of gravity of sedan cars make them far more suitable for high-speed routes. Due to their lower wind resistance and lower tare weight, they also need less energy extracted from fuel combustion or electric batteries than SUVs. At the same time, they are more maneuverable and "hold" the road better, making sedan-type vehicles safer to take corners than cars with higher suspension. On the other hand, however, an SUV with more power can better handle pulling a trailer or traversing bumpy forest roads. In conclusion, these are two different types of vehicles, and the decision should be made based on individual needs.
Advantages and disadvantages of SUVs
Given the relatively high price and fuel consumption of this type of vehicle, many people wonder whether it is worth buying an SUV. They are generally appreciated for their excellent visibility behind the wheel, spacious interior and prestigious appearance. SUVs also offer a higher standard of equipment and are considered safer due to their long crumple zone, but they don't always pass the test in traffic practice. The high center of gravity translates into limited handling of the car and an increased risk of rollover when cornering at higher speeds. In addition, SUVs pose a greater danger to pedestrians due to their high hood. In the event of a hit, the pedestrian's body does not stop on the hood or windshield, but instead falls onto the roadway, which can cause greater injury. The high body of SUVs is also a drawback when traveling outside the city. Due to higher air resistance, fuel consumption is definitely higher, and there is more noise in the cabin.
What is the reason for the growing popularity of electric and hybrid SUVs? What are their advantages?
SUV advocates who are considering the choice between gasoline, diesel and electric cars are increasingly inclined to buy an electric or hybrid SUV, even despite the high cost and concerns about a limited charging network. This is mainly due to fluctuations in the price of traditional fuels, restrictions on the entry of combustion cars into major cities, or financial incentives offered by the governments of some countries. Also, the planned phase-out of traditionally powered cars after 2035 indicates that electric cars are the future of the automotive industry. Today, electric SUVs offer much longer ranges than in the past, so they require less frequent charging and can also be used more reliably outside the city. They can also be equipped with 4×4 drive, and the powerful engine allows them to overcome obstacles very efficiently. Another advantage of an electric SUV, like all cars with such a drive, is better interior organization. The floor of the car is completely flat, because in this case the space is not taken up by the driveshaft. Some manufacturers also point out that the battery module, stacked just under the floor, lowers the center of gravity of the electric SUV, which greatly improves driving comfort. Such cars are also being improved with the use of modern EPP plastic components, which provide the answer to the question of how to reduce the weight of passenger cars.
How do plastics help improve modern electric and hybrid cars?
Modern plastics contribute to the performance of modern cars in a number of ways. For example, the use of innovative EPP foam components instead of traditional hard plastics reduces their own weight while providing greater safety and better acoustics inside the vehicle. Above all, however, they improve passive safety systems in cars.
Foamed EPP polypropylene is ideal for safety car parts, as it is resistant to damage and does not undergo permanent deformation. When used in seats, it not only absorbs impacts, but also returns to its previous form, protecting passengers from injury. The material used for the trunk filling stops noise from outside the vehicle, providing greater comfort for travelers. Meanwhile, as a bumper infill, EPP foam protects pedestrians by dampening the impact force created during a possible hit, thus reducing injuries. The modern closed-cell plastic has also found application in the production of durable housings and mounting elements for car batteries, as it has excellent thermal and electrical insulation properties. As a result, it protects the electric battery from damage – both mechanical and thermal damage. Modern automotive components made of EPP and EPS are finding applications in ever-newer areas of vehicle construction, as well as in the visionary plastic vehicle designs of the future.