The abbreviation SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. This type of car combines the powerful towing capacity of a pickup truck with the ample amount of passenger space offered by minivans and similar vehicles. It is also common for SUVs to come with increased off road capacity compared to an ordinary car.
The term SUV is especially popular in North America and India. In many other parts of the world, terms such as “four-wheel-drive”, “4WD” or “4x4” are more common. It should however be noted that although quite a lot of SUVs have off-road capacity, they rarely have the capacity to switch between 2WD, 4WD high gearing, and 4WD low gearing. This distinguishes them from true off-road vehicles. There are plenty of 4WD vehicles that are not SUVs, and there are also plenty of SUVs that come without 4WD. The terms 4WD and SUV are therefore not synonyms. In Australia, the motor industry have invented a new term, AWD, which stands for all wheel drive and is used for vehicles that are 4WD without being intended for driving in severe off-road conditions.
The SUV design varies a lot between the many manufacturers, but the traditional SUV is a mid-sized passenger vehicle based on a body-on-frame chassis that is similar to the chassis used for light trucks. The traditional SUV will also come with a roughly square cross-section. The passenger compartment is normally combined with the cargo compartment and there is not dedicated trunk. Today, most mid-size and full-size SUVs come with three rows of seats, but compact SUVs sometimes have only five seats or even less. The traditional SUV is a boxy vehicle, but in order to make the vehicles more fuel efficient some manufacturers have started to produce SUVs with better aerodynamic properties.
The modern SUV can trace its ancestry back to vehicles such as the Jeep and the Land Rover. Thanks to their off-road capacity, SUVs first became popular among car owners living in rural areas and urban dwellers who liked to spend their free time in remote locations. Three of the very first SUVs were the 1948 Willys Jeep Wagon, the 1958 Land Rover Series II 109, and the 1961 International Harvester Scout 80/800. In the 1990s, the popularity of the SUV suddenly spiked in North America and Australia. The SUV made it easier to tow trailers, boats and caravans, and car owners also appreciated the higher ride height and the big cabins. The perceived safety was also an important aspect for many buyers. During the 1990s, the oil price was at an exceptionally low level and this made car buyers less interested in fuel economy and more focused on other aspects when selecting cars. In Australia, car buyers realised that the SUV had a significantly lower import duty than ordinary cars and this helped fuel the interest in SUVs even among those who lived in urban areas. Today, the Australian import duty has been lowered for cars, but there is still a 5% different between a car (10%) and a SUV (5%).