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SUVs ride high at the Geneva motor show

As interest wanes in more traditional car segments, sport utility vehicles have been riding high - a phenomenon that's unlikely to grind to a halt as stricter fuel consumption rules kick into gear in the next years.

Bigger's still better at this year's Geneva Motor Show, where sport utility vehicles took center stage. Although future-oriented studies showcasing hyper-connectivity and e-mobility had their places among the show's glittering, spinning displays, auto manufacturers concentrated on churning out the sort of cars that have been gaining a lot of ground on the global market.

And especially the SUV-B and SUV-C segments - smaller, more compact SUVs - are expected to grow even more. IHS Automotive predicts that combined European sales in these segments will rise by more than 40 percent, or 5.23 million units, between 2015 and 2022. Global sales are expected to grow 13 percent in the same period.

Ian Fletcher, principle automotive analyst at IHS Automotive, finds that there's strong trend "towards the robust looks" of these vehicles. "It's both the way the people want to be perceived and the way that they want to drive the vehicle on the road and have better visibility and authority as a road users. It offers customers perception that they're the outgoing adventurous type, despite the fact that they may just be taking the vehicle down to the shop."

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High horsepower instead of electric mobility

Luxury goes offroad

Even manufacturers of more traditional luxury cars like Maserati have gone in on the game. In Geneva the Italian manufacturer unveiled the Levante (see picture above), it's own 70,000 euro ($76,000) SUV offering.

"We decided to develop the Levante because there was a great opportunity at the SUV market globally, which has been booming in the last years," said Mario Magnanini. "It's for families, it's for women. We've talked with a lot of customers, it's perfect for everyday-usage and for off-road opportunities."

And that's just one example. Embattled German carmaker Volkswagen presented its own T-Breeze concept SUV convertible, and its brand SEAT showcased its own, first ever SUV, called the Ateca.

Not to be outdone, the world's number one auto manufacturer Toyota debuted its CHR, the first full-hybrid mid-size cross over SUV.

Tesla Model X P90D

Tesla's 7-seater Mode X also had it's European premiere at the auto show, consistently attracting a crowd of people eager to see certain first-time features like upward-opening falcon-wing doors that fold to avoid ceilings.

SUV vs. environment

Looming large over the SUV frenzy - in part driven by lower gas prices and generally changing consumer preferences - are new fuel consumption rules set to take effect in Europe in 2020, forcing automakers to rein in the gas guzzling.

But that the rules will impact the market for SUVs in the end isn't to be taken for granted - although consumers are increasingly considering fuel efficiency as a factor informing their car purchase choices. But IHS Automotive's Fletcher said the the gap between SUVs and traditional car segments in terms of fuel consumption is narrowing.

"A lot of the architecture in the platforms used in these vehicles are very closely related now," said Fletcher. "They use similarly powered engines. There is also a shift toward two wheel drives, versus the traditional all-wheel drives, which would help to improve the fuel efficiency and improve emissions."

In that respect, stricter fuel consumption rules are likely to make a serious dent on the SUV's growing clout, he said. Increasing numbers of drivers are therefore set to keep riding high.

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