Not a mini-van, the crossover gets noticed at the LA Auto Show

Often when you say crossover to someone they think of basketball, and one of those spectacular ankle breakers that make Neil and Stan’s Top Ten.

But this isn’t just any old week in Los Angeles. The LA Auto Show begins Friday and runs for 10 days. It’s the 100th Anniversary year, and there will be over 1,000 new cars on display. And the most popular cars this year are the crossovers.

These are somewhere between SUVs and sedans. One reason for their popularity is that they are the right size for most people, right in in the goldilocks zone – not too big, not too small. They ride comfortably. You sit up a bit higher than a sedan. They’re priced about the same as a comparable sedan. There’s increased cabin space, you can throw a kayak on top, and – it’s not a minivan.

Vintage Subaru at the LA Auto Show (Tod Mesirow)
Mazda Vision Coupe at the LA Auto Show (Tod Mesirow)

Of course, the show has a a bunch of non-crossover highlights, including the Mercedes-AMG’s new supercar: Project One; and Mazda’s Vision Concept, a stunning design that looks like a modern version of the Aston Martin Rapide. And even though the show focuses on new cars, there is charming vintage Subaru 360 on display. It was imported into the U.S. in 1968, weighs in at 850 pounds, and looks like a prime candidate for a wind up screw to be placed on top.

But what Subaru lovers were most excited about is the new Ascent – you guessed it – a crossover with three rows of seating, a Subaru first.

Subaru Ascent at the LA Auto Show (Tod Mesirow)

In 2016 crossovers in the U.S. were responsible for 35 percent of all vehicles sold, at 6.1 million units, according to Stephanie Brin, Senior Analyst of IHS Markit. She said that sedans barely edged out crossovers with 35.8 percent of the market. But since 2000 crossover sales have been on a steady climb, consistently seeing market share grow.

The acronym is CUV – which stands for Crossover Utility Vehicle and is distinct from the SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle).

Crossovers stand apart because they are unibody vehicles, as opposed to body-on-frame vehicles, like trucks and SUVs. When cars were first made, the general shape was rectangular. The axles were attached to the underside of the frame, and the body was bolted to the top. Over time manufacturers tried something new – combining the body and the frame into one piece.

The 1922 Lancia Lambda is said to be the first major manufacturer to put this approach into practice, followed by the Citroen Traction Avant in 1934. In 1942 Nash 600 was the first American lower priced car to use unibody construction.

These days it’s pretty much the standard. Unibody vehicles have several advantages – the main one being weight. There’s less metal involved in making the car, which helps with gas mileage. There are also benefits in ride comfort because the vehicle is one integrated system.

Automotive News’ David Undercoffler pegs the Toyota Rav 4, introduced in 1994, as the beginning of the current boom in crossovers. There are still some SUVs still being made the old-fashioned way with body-on-frame, including the Suburban, the Expedition, Toyota 4 Runner, Nissan Armada and others. But there are fewer than 20 SUVs left, and the numbers are shrinking as more people cross over to, well, the crossover.