A Short History of the SUV

11th November 2014

Military beginnings

SUV's (Sport Utility Vehicles) began their life as military vehicles when the US army called on automobile manufacturers to come up with a prototype vehicle that had 4 wheel drive and was tough, durable and capable of carrying soldiers over rough terrain. They put out the request to over 130 companies but only had a response from two, one which was named Willys Overland, whose prototype the 'Jeep' was chosen to supply the military. The US Government commissioned Willys MB to make hundreds of their off-road vehicles in preparation of going into battle during World War Two, with help from Ford Motor Co they produced more than 700,000 vehicles for the U.S Army.

A Willy's MB Jeep

The Jeep played a very important part in the war helping the US, UK and Australian armies carry soldiers and their equipment across rough terrain, whilst at the same time keeping them safe. After the war, the jeep went on sale to the public with the CJ-5 model, and became an extremely popular car particularly in the US.

Not to be outdone buy their American allies, British brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks created a design for a 4x4 vehicle called the 'Land Rover'. The Land Rover was built using similar specifications to the Jeep but was designed to be more useful as a working vehicle for farmers. The Land Rover made its official debut in April 1948.

The Land Rover

In 1950, when the Korean War broke out, the U.S military, who had bases in Japan, requested that Japanese automobile manufacturers Toyota develop a military vehicle that could be used by the US forces in battle. By 1951 they produced a prototype, although this was rejected in favour of the US Jeep. Later, in 1953, Toyota came up with the Toyota Land Cruiser a 4x4 SUV that was large, powerful and durable, and was adopted by the Japanese National Police Agency.

The original Toyota Land Cruiser

Growth in consumer popularity

Although the SUV was relatively popular, it wasn't until the 90's that they really took off as they became the car of choice in America and Asia. Initially, they did not have as much of an impact in Europe, as they were not seen as being suited to this regions generally more urbanised environments. It wasn't until 2007 that the SUV market in the UK and in fact worldwide exploded as the vehicles became safer, more affordable and economical. According to figures released by SMMT the SUV market has grown from 4.5% of new car registrations in 2000, to 11% in 2013.

Today, the SUV has continued to grow in popularity around the world, with a huge increase in SUV variants being produced, nearly all manufacturers now have their own SUV range - in 2013 there was 52 differnt SUV models on the market. Even luxury car makers are getting in on the SUV market, with Bentley confirming they are to release their version of the SUV in 2016, and Rolls Royce considering the production an SUV. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi all have numerous versions of SUV's, and all three plan to produce even more variants in the next few years, with Audi saying they want to add a further 5 SUV's to their already growing Q range.

A Mercedes GL-Class

More competitive pricing has played a significant role in growing SUV popularity, no longer are they the choice for the rich and powerful, now everyone has the opportunity to buy an SUV without necessarily spending a fortune. Companies such as Nissan have led the way, producing affordable, quality models such as the award winning Nissan Qashqai, while Romanian manufacturers Dacia have also become big players thanks to their affordable and economical SUV's such as the Dacia Duster.

Dacia Duster

What makes the SUV such a long standing and popular choice?

The main reason is size but the SUV has a lot of characteristics that other vehicles don't have such as:

  • A large cabin with between 5 and 7 seats
  • 4x4 or all-wheel drive capabilities
  • Passenger carrying combined with cargo hauling and towing abilities
  • High ground clearance

SUV's also come in a range of different sizes to suit all needs. There is the compact or small SUV which includes such models as the Ford Kuga and Renault Captur. New variants have also arisen, including the crossover SUV, a cross between a standard car and SUV, models in this category include the Honda CR-V and the Kia Sportage. Then finally there are the large SUV's such as the Range Rover Sport, and the Volkswagen Touareg.

Bright SUV future

So, the SUV was originally built for use by the army and continues to be used for military purposes across the world. They are also firmly established as the vehicle of choice for humanitarian missions, their versatility and practicality being vital in dealing with at times very harsh environments. As well as being used in combat and aid missions, the SUV continues to grow in popularity with the general public and are now seen as a reachable car for many people. As we head in to 2015, we can expect to see many more model variants, meaning we are likely to see an SUV at every corner of every road, in every city and town around the world - its a vehicle category on its way to overtaking the hatchback as the world's favourite car!

By Jenna Niblock