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Crossovers help drive SUV revival

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – The SUV is dead. Long live the SUV.

Not so long ago, the sport utility vehicle seemed on the road to extinction. When the economy cratered and gasoline prices surged, droves of Americans parked their land yachts or traded them in for something small and peppy.

It became tacky to drive around in a Hummer getting 15 miles to the gallon.

Now SUVs are back in vogue. For the first time in decades, more people are buying SUVs than sedans. 

Two forces are driving the revival. One: Americans are feeling a little jauntier as the economy improves and are willing to indulge in a lifestyle upgrade. Two: Automakers have released a blizzard of new models that are good to look at, drive like sedans or sports cars and sip fuel – at least compared with their hulking predecessors.

Even the Detroit Three have joined the Japanese and Koreans with sexy, car-based crossovers such as the Buick Encore.

“There’s just been a massive amount of product that’s hit the market,” said Mark Wakefield, managing director and head of automotive practice at consultant AlixPartners. “They’re better than they were before, and the heart of the market has moved to a more carlike feel, powertrain and efficiency. If you step out of a 5- or 6-year-old car, you won’t see yourself going to the pump more often.”

Dan Frost has been selling Chryslers in suburban Detroit for years. He remembers all too well that back in 2008 SUVs “were going to be a thing of the past.” He’s as shocked as anyone that Jeep brand SUV deliveries jumped 41 percent last month alone. Frost is most definitely not complaining.

General Motors is in the sweet spot, having redesigned its entire lineup of full-size SUVs in the past year.

Chevy Tahoe sales jumped 52 percent last month; the Buick Encore racked up an 80 percent sales surge this year through July.