Ford SUVs
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The rise and fall of the SUV

By Joni Gray
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

10 years of “truck-based” SUVs’ sales highs and lows

From 1997 to 2007, SUV sales went on quite a roller-coaster ride. The vehicles took off for a number of reasons, including a $6,000 small-business tax break on cars that weighed above 6,000 pounds and the move by soccer/hockey moms to abandon minivans for big, tall and seemingly safe SUVs. Then came the gasoline prices near $5 a gallon, and the economic meltdown. Looking back with the help of Autodata Corp. and Jason Allan, senior editor for car news and reviews at Kelley Blue Book, here’s a glance at the models that soared, then stumbled.

(Editorial note: Hybrid versions of these vehicles were not included in data.) (Los Angeles Times/Lawrence K. Ho)
Chevrolet Tahoe/Blazer
High: 209,767 units in 2002
Low: 146,256 units in 2007
Fall: 30%

Among the nine vehicles on the list, the Chevy Tahoe experienced the smallest percentage decline in sales. What made Tahoe desirable at its sales height in 2002? Jason Allan of KBB says: “Back in the days of $1.50/gallon gas, the Tahoe stood out as the more stylish of the big SUVs. It had rounder edges and, for an American brand, a less truck-like appearance that both men and women liked.” (GM)
Nissan Xterra
High: 88,578 units in 2000
Low: 51,355 units in 2007
Fall: 42%

Xterra’s success, which peaked in 2000, had as much to do with its off-road abilities as its styling -- something that perhaps was a little bit reminiscent of a Land Rover Discovery (without the hefty price tag). However, this was back in the day when the difference between an SUV that got 17 miles per gallon and a vehicle that got 25 mpg was no big deal. (Nissan)
Jeep Liberty
High: 171,212 units in 2002
Low: 92,105 units in 2007
Fall: 46%

Back in 2002, the Jeep Liberty was poised to replace the Cherokee. But timing is everything, and Chrysler started this more modern design approach a little too late. With many other designs and models diluting the Jeep brand’s lineup, Liberty lost steam by 2007. (Chrysler)
Chevrolet Suburban
High: 151,056 units in 2002
Low: 77,211 units in 2006
Fall: 49%

It’s not too much of a surprise that the Suburban made this list. Suburban’s towing capacity, three full rows of back seating and additional cargo space appealed to the “bigger-is-better” consumer like no other vehicle. (GM)
Jeep Grand Cherokee
High: 300,031 units in 1999
Low: 120,937 units in 2007
Fall: 60%

Before gas prices soared, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was one of the more desirable brands of SUV. “At the top of its game in the late ‘90s, the Grand Cherokee made it OK to buy an SUV with no intention of taking it off-road,” Allan said.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this caption described the Jeep Grand Cherokee as a crossover vehicle built on a car base. The vehicle is on a unibody frame. (Chrysler)
Chevrolet Trailblazer*
High: 345,505 units in 2002
Low: 134,626 units in 2007
Fall: 61%
(*Includes Blazer sales.)

The Trailblazer reached its all-time high in 2002 as an upscale trim of the Chevrolet Blazer. Always sold with plenty of cash incentives, the Trailblazer is the smallest of Chevy’s truck-based SUVs. (GM)
Ford Expedition*
High: 233,125 units in 1999
Low: 87,203 units in 2006
Fall: 62%
(*Includes Bronco sales.)

Following on the heels of the Explorer’s success, Ford asked itself, why not go bigger? Thus the Expedition. Allan cites the U.S. gas crisis as a key factor in its fall from grace.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this caption quoted Allan as saying that “the Expedition took two big hits in its life cycle: the advent of the Chevrolet Tahoe and the U.S. gas crisis.” In fact, the Tahoe predated the 1997 launch of the Expedition. (Ford)
Ford Explorer*
High: 445,157 units in 2000
Low: 137,817 units in 2007
Fall: 69%
(*Includes Bronco II sales)

Back in the day, the Ford Explorer was to SUVs what Kleenex is to tissue.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this caption said Explorer “remains a popular brand name thanks to the Explorer Hybrid (which was not factored into this analysis).” Ford does not sell a hybrid Explorer. (Los Angeles Times/Lawrence K. Ho)
Dodge Durango
High: 189,840 units in 1999
Low: 45,503 units in 2007
Fall: 76%

The Durango, like its truck brother, the Ram, caused a styling stir among American truck devotees when it debuted in 1998 as a 1999 model. Dodge should have quit while it was ahead, because the SUV has seen major declines as gas prices skyrocketed. The next move is the 2009 hybrid, which should help.

FOR THE RECORD An earlier version of this caption referred to a “rumored” Durango hybrid. In fact, Dodge has listed the model in its 2009 lineup and dealers are taking pre-orders. (Chrysler)