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Smaller SUV Breeds Roll into 2015 Market

By Herb Shuldiner, August 9th, 2014

A fleet of new-generation small SUVs is trickling into the 2015 marketplace. The all-new Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, and Jeep Renegade lead the pack in this breed of off-road small vehicle that's been growing in popularity globally.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade is built in Italy, says Jim Morrison, director-Jeep brand marketing. The Renegade is the first Jeep sold in the U.S. that is built abroad and joins a growing segment of fuel-efficient SUVs on the market. In fact, all of these new models are built outside the U.S. The Renegade, Trax, and HR-V compete with the Nissan Juke and Kia Soul.

Three premium small crossover utility vehicle already competing in the market are the Buick Encore, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Mercedes introduces an even smaller model, the 2015 GLA. An AMG version of the GLA launches in 2015 featuring a 355-horsepower engine.

The Renegade is available in two trim levels. The base model Trailhawk with a 1.4L four-cylinder turbocharged engine generates 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission exclusively. A more expensive model features a 2.4-liter four-cylinder cranking out 184 hp and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. This version is available only with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Morrison forecasts about 70 percent of Renegade buyers will select the model with the bigger engine.

The Juke, built in Nissan's Oppama, Japan, plant, bases at $19,170, but its top of the line NISMO RS model hits $28,120. Juke U.S. sales through June totaled 25,761 units, an increase of nearly 45 percent over the same time period of 2013. Only 15 percent of Juke sales are in the U.S., a Nissan spokesman says.

The Trax is currently available in Canada and Mexico, so its arrival in the U.S. sees an already market-tested vehicle. Initially, the Trax will be imported from South Korea, where the Buick Encore is also built, but eventually the U.S.-market model also will be sourced from a Mexican plant. Prices start at about $20,000. The Trax-based Encore, with base prices ranging from $25,000 to $31,000, comes to American Buick dealers from a plant in South Korea.

A Honda spokesman says the HR-V is the brand's new entry point to its light-truck portfolio, "positioned below CR-V in both price and size." The HR-V is be assembled at a Honda plant in Mexico on the same line as the subcompact Fit.

Ford also has a model in this segment, the Brazil-built EcoSport, but there's currently no plan to bring that vehicle to the U.S. Ford will sell the EcoSport in Europe and plans to launch the model in Thailand, Japan, and Australia this year. Additional models are on the way, including the Infiniti QX30, a new entry from Nissan, and the Fiat 500X.

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