LOS ANGELES – Sixteen cup holders. Twenty-eight speakers. Off-road capability.
Automakers introduced new family oriented SUVs crammed full of those features and many others at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, aiming to attract buyers who are rapidly ditching sedans.
It’s the latest competitive dimension in the frenzied SUV boom – and much of it is targeted at families who want more room for their kids, their stuff and their adventures.
With passenger cars set to become virtually extinct at General Motors and Ford – and already virtually gone at Fiat Chrysler – automakers need to find fresh ways to make their SUVs stand out.
And they know Americans love the idea of more. And not just more room.
More connectivity. More safety. More fun.
“It helps them differentiate their product among the sea of new products and new SUVs,” says Jessica Caldwell, analyst for car-buying advice site Edmunds. “I think we’re going to continue to see automakers find new niches that don’t exist yet.”
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Anything to win over buyers because as competition heats up, it’s not enough to simply have SUVs in the showroom now, like it used to be. They must be compelling.
“Whether it’s cup holders or USB ports or a powertrain or getting into the back easier, whatever feature is (going to stand out in) that segment is what automakers have to focus on,” says Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Markit.
For example, Hyundai bragged at the Los Angeles Auto Show that its new three-row Palisade SUV has 16 cup holders. That’s two cup holders for every passenger in the eight-seat vehicle.
“Cup-holder count has become an obsessive point, a fixation,” says Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book. “I don’t think most consumers are that wound up, but I do think it becomes a talking point and a bullet point in a press release for manufacturers.”
Talking points or substantive elements – either way, the new features are adding up:
In addition to 16 cup holders, the 2020 Palisade will have seven USB ports for device charging. Apparently one unlucky passenger will have to face the prospect of diminished battery life.
The Palisade also has a roof vent designed to diffuse the stream of air to allow occupants to control the flow of the wind. Hyundai says it’s a first in the industry.
The new Lincoln Aviator SUV has an optional audio system with 28 speakers, creating what the Ford luxury brand called an “authentic concert-hall experience.”
The Aviator also comes with optional seats that can be moved in 30 directions.
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Americans love the idea that they can customize their larger vehicle’s interior – which emanates in many respects from the minivan segment. Even if they rarely move the seats, they like the idea that they can.
And it’s becoming easier than ever in SUVs. The Palisade comes with third-row power seats.
No longer will vehicle owners have to use their muscles.
“Now it’s like, it’s not just fold-down seats – it’s power fold-down seats,” Brauer says.
The ability to go off-road
Honda revealed a new SUV of its own at the LA show: the Passport, which is larger than the popular CR-V midsize crossover but smaller than the eight-seat Pilot SUV.
Honda’s American division senior vice president, Henio Arcangeli Jr., was careful to describe it as “more rugged and powerful than CR-V but more personal and sporty than the family focused Pilot, with even better off-road performance.”
The Passport comes with an “Adventure Package,” which has running boards, a trailer hitch, fender flares “and more for outdoor weekend getaways,” Honda says.
Will Passport owners actually go on off-road adventures?
Doesn’t matter. The idea is what counts.
“There’s an old quote in the car industry that says, you can sell a young car to an old person, but you can’t sell an old car to a young person,” Brauer says. “You can sell a sporty car to a family, but you can’t sell a family car to a sporty person.”
Call it accessibility. Call it convenience. Call it laziness if you want.
But several of the new SUV models debuting at the LA show offer the ability to unlock and start the vehicle with an app.
The Aviator is the first Lincoln model to get what the brand calls its “Phone As A Key technology.”
Apparently the key is one feature Americans don’t need.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.