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Hyundai And Kia Are Now Dominating The Midsize Crossover SUV Segment

Only a decade ago, Kia and Hyundai, both part of the Hyundai Motor Group, were not much more than also-rans in the midsize crossover SUV space. Sales were near the bottom of the segment, and the products were not held in anything close to resembling high esteem. Fast forward to today, and the Korean duo has the best-selling lineups in the segment, and its vehicles are – in many cases – the ones to beat.

Kia Sorento

Kia Telluride

Some Background

In 2010, Hyundai and Kia fielded a very different lineup than they do today. Hyundai’s first entry into the midsize utility space was the Santa Fe, followed by the larger Veracruz a few years later. Kia, meanwhile, entered the fray with the Sorento, followed by the body-on-frame Borrego. Of those, only the Santa Fe and Sorento survive today – the Veracruz was replaced by the long-wheelbase, three-row Santa Fe, followed by the Hyundai Palisade, while the Borrego was discontinued and indirectly replaced by the Kia Telluride years later.

Midsize crossover SUV sales totaled 194K units for both Hyundai and Kia during the 2013 calendar year. By comparison, Ford recorded 347K deliveries during the same timeframe.

Today’s Number 1 Spot

Today’s two- and two-model lineup, consisting of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Palisade, along with the Kia Sorento and Telluride, has gradually risen to be the best-selling combination in the space.

Sales Numbers - Midsize Mainstream Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE +9.51% 244,594 223,345 12% 12%
FORD EXPLORER -10.05% 186,799 207,673 9% 11%
TOYOTA HIGHLANDER -23.91% 169,543 222,805 8% 12%
HYUNDAI SANTA FE +10.02% 131,574 119,589 7% 6%
CHEVROLET TRAVERSE +27.42% 123,555 96,965 6% 5%
KIA TELLURIDE +10.89% 110,765 99,891 5% 5%
FORD EDGE +24.14% 106,098 85,465 5% 5%
HONDA PILOT +0.73% 100,298 99,567 5% 5%
VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS +16.64% 95,675 82,025 5% 4%
HYUNDAI PALISADE +8.25% 89,509 82,688 4% 4%
KIA SORENTO +2.57% 88,625 86,406 4% 5%
NISSAN PATHFINDER +23.93% 71,710 57,862 4% 3%
DODGE DURANGO +24.83% 69,196 55,433 3% 3%
GMC ACADIA +25.10% 66,322 53,014 3% 3%
CHEVROLET BLAZER -2.58% 65,511 67,246 3% 4%
SUBARU ASCENT -4.96% 60,543 63,704 3% 3%
TOYOTA GRAND HIGHLANDER * 48,036 0 2% 0%
HONDA PASSPORT +5.32% 43,502 41,306 2% 2%
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER +3.81% 42,501 40,942 2% 2%
NISSAN MURANO +3.53% 31,137 30,074 2% 2%
MAZDA CX-90 * 30,821 0 2% 0%
TOYOTA VENZA -11.21% 29,907 33,683 1% 2%
MAZDA CX-9 -49.53% 17,451 34,580 1% 2%
TOTAL +7.40% 2,023,672 1,884,263

In 2023, the four models in question accounted for 420,473 sales in the U.S., representing 21 percent of the segment’s 2,023,672 sales during the same timeframe.

Sales Numbers - Hyundai-Kia Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
HYUNDAI SANTA FE +10.02% 131,574 119,589 31% 31%
KIA TELLURIDE +10.89% 110,765 99,891 26% 26%
KIA SORENTO +2.57% 88,625 86,406 21% 22%
HYUNDAI PALISADE +8.25% 89,509 82,688 21% 21%
TOTAL +8.21% 420,473 388,574

Sales Numbers - Ford Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
FORD EXPLORER -10.05% 186,799 207,673 64% 71%
FORD EDGE +24.14% 106,098 85,465 36% 29%
TOTAL -0.08% 292,897 293,138

Sales Numbers - GM Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
CHEVROLET TRAVERSE +27.42% 123,555 96,965 48% 45%
CHEVROLET BLAZER -2.58% 65,511 67,246 26% 31%
GMC ACADIA +25.10% 66,322 53,014 26% 24%
TOTAL +17.57% 255,388 217,225

Sales Numbers - Toyota Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
TOYOTA VENZA -11.21% 29,907 33,683 12% 13%
TOYOTA HIGHLANDER -23.91% 169,543 222,805 69% 87%
TOYOTA GRAND HIGHLANDER * 48,036 0 19% 0%
TOTAL -3.51% 247,486 256,488

Sales Numbers - Honda Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
HONDA PASSPORT +5.32% 43,502 41,306 30% 29%
HONDA PILOT +0.73% 100,298 99,567 70% 71%
TOTAL +2.08% 143,800 140,873

Sales Numbers - Nissan Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
NISSAN MURANO +3.53% 31,137 30,074 30% 34%
NISSAN PATHFINDER +23.93% 71,710 57,862 70% 66%
TOTAL +16.96% 102,847 87,936

Sales Numbers - Mazda Midsize Crossovers - 2023 - USA

MODEL YTD 23 / YTD 22 YTD 23 YTD 22 YTD 23 SHARE YTD 22 SHARE
MAZDA CX-90 * 30,821 0 64% 0%
MAZDA CX-9 -49.53% 17,451 34,580 36% 100%
TOTAL +39.60% 48,272 34,580

That’s substantially higher than all other automakers, most of which also field more than one entry in this space:

  • Ford: two entries totaling 292,897 sales – 14 percent segment share
  • GM: three entries totaling 255,388 sales – 12.6 percent segment share
  • Toyota: three entries totaling¬†247,486 sales – 12.2 percent segment share
  • Honda: two entries totaling 143,800 sales – 7 percent segment share
  • Nissan: two entries totaling 102,847 sales – 5 percent segment share
  • Mazda: one entry (CX-9 discontinued) – 2.3 percent segment share

Interestingly, the inflection point for the Korean brands came during the 2020 calendar year, the first full year that the critically-acclaimed Telluride and Palisade went on sale. It was in 2020 that Hyundai and Kia sold 333,224 units of their four nameplates, outselling GM while catching up to Ford – the two perennial volume leaders in the space. The following year, Hyundai and Kia recorded 374K deliveries, outselling GM (288K) and Ford (305K). As such, the addition of the Telluride and Palisade was key to the growing sales, while maintaining Santa Fe and Sorento volume.

Sales Numbers - Hyundai-Kia Midsize Crossovers - 2020 - USA

MODEL YTD 20 / YTD 19 YTD 20 YTD 19 YTD 20 SHARE YTD 19 SHARE
HYUNDAI SANTA FE -20.90% 100,757 127,373 30% 41%
KIA TELLURIDE +28.20% 75,129 58,604 23% 19%
HYUNDAI PALISADE +187.66% 82,661 28,736 25% 9%
KIA SORENTO -22.17% 74,677 95,951 22% 31%
TOTAL +7.26% 333,224 310,664

Sales Numbers - Midsize Mainstream Crossovers - 2020 - USA

MODEL YTD 20 / YTD 19 YTD 20 YTD 19 YTD 20 SHARE YTD 19 SHARE
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE -13.66% 209,786 242,969 11% 12%
FORD EXPLORER +20.93% 226,217 187,061 12% 9%
TOYOTA HIGHLANDER -11.34% 212,276 239,438 11% 12%
HYUNDAI SANTA FE -20.90% 100,757 127,373 5% 6%
CHEVROLET TRAVERSE -14.67% 125,546 147,122 6% 7%
KIA TELLURIDE +28.20% 75,129 58,604 4% 3%
FORD EDGE -21.39% 108,886 138,515 6% 7%
HONDA PILOT -8.29% 123,813 135,008 6% 7%
VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS +7.18% 87,362 81,508 5% 4%
HYUNDAI PALISADE +187.66% 82,661 28,736 4% 1%
KIA SORENTO -22.17% 74,677 95,951 4% 5%
NISSAN PATHFINDER -26.05% 48,579 65,691 3% 3%
DODGE DURANGO -14.45% 57,828 67,599 3% 3%
GMC ACADIA -27.05% 72,537 99,429 4% 5%
CHEVROLET BLAZER +62.78% 94,599 58,115 5% 3%
SUBARU ASCENT -17.49% 67,623 81,958 3% 4%
HONDA PASSPORT +9.65% 39,567 36,085 2% 2%
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER -28.53% 27,132 37,965 1% 2%
NISSAN MURANO -14.78% 58,255 68,361 3% 3%
TOYOTA VENZA +145,155.56% 13,073 9 1% 0%
MAZDA CX-9 +2.89% 27,638 26,861 1% 1%
TOTAL -4.47% 1,933,941 2,024,358

Sales Numbers - GM Midsize Mainstream Crossovers - 2020 - USA

MODEL YTD 20 / YTD 19 YTD 20 YTD 19 YTD 20 SHARE YTD 19 SHARE
CHEVROLET BLAZER +62.78% 94,599 58,115 32% 19%
CHEVROLET TRAVERSE -14.67% 125,546 147,122 43% 48%
GMC ACADIA -27.05% 72,537 99,429 25% 33%
TOTAL -3.93% 292,682 304,666

Sales Numbers - Ford Midsize Mainstream Crossovers - 2020 - USA

MODEL YTD 20 / YTD 19 YTD 20 YTD 19 YTD 20 SHARE YTD 19 SHARE
FORD EXPLORER +20.93% 226,217 187,061 67% 53%
FORD EDGE -21.39% 108,886 138,515 32% 40%
FORD FLEX -80.20% 4,848 24,484 1% 7%
TOTAL -2.89% 339,951 350,060

Kia Telluride indirectly replaced the Kia Borrego (pictured)

How They Did It

Although offering the most models in the segment certainly goes a long way toward helping earn sales leadership, the quantity of models is only part of the reason for the Korean duo’s newfound success. The other, arguably more important bits, revolve around product substance, quality and persistence.

While the first Santa Fe and Sorento were decent first efforts, they fell short in just about every objective category. At this point, some automakers – not satisfied with the business results – would just call it quits and leave the segment entirely. We’re looking at you, Ford and GM – which may as well be nicknamed “the great abandoners of segments” – something that’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. That was far from the case for Hyundai and Kia; not satisfied with that result, the automaker launched a strategic, multi-year initiative to improve product via a continuous improvement model for each mid-cycle refresh and new vehicle generation.

A prototype of the upcoming 2026 Hyundai Palisade (mid-cycle refresh)

This is most evident with the Palisade and Telluride, which will be overhauled for the 2026 model year (see more about the 2026 Hyundai Palisade). The next-gen 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe, meanwhile, looks to deliver a massive shake up to the midsize crossover SUV space with a design so radical, that it’s turning heads and earning fans at auto shows and premiers the world over. In fact, it’s possible that the new Santa Fe will deliver a similar kind of boost to sales volume as did the Palisade did.

A front three quarters view of the next-gen 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

Next-gen 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

Not only is the success of Hyundai and Kia in one of the most competitive vehicle segments in the world impressive, it’s also a testament to the power of a continuous improvement model with a laser focus on product and the customer. It should make for a great business case study for years to come. After all, it’s not every day that a multinational automaker is able to double its sales, going from (nearly) zero to hero.

The competition is not standing still. Chevy is weeks away from launching the all-new 2024 Chevy Traverse and 2024 GMC Acadia, while Ford recently revealed the 2025 Explorer. What’s more, 2024 will be the Grand Highlander’s first full year on the market. Even so, the Hyundai-Kia strategy of four offerings seems solid enough to withstand the new rivals well into the future.

Motrolix Founder with a passion for global automotive business strategy.

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