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Big Car Love: 4 Surging SUVs

So far this year, Ford, GM and other automakers have seen their large SUVs sell incredibly well.
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DETROIT (

TheStreet

) -- Americans still love their big SUVs.

While August was a poor month for auto sales with most models showing year-over-year sales declines, SUVs held their own. Sales of

crossover SUVs, built on automobile frames, are surging

, but perhaps more surprising is the activity surrounding their full-sized predecessors -- older model gas guzzlers built on truck chassis.

Likely a reflection of lower gas prices and increased buying in the construction trades -- the same trends benefitting

sales of pickup trucks

-- SUV sales increased 19% over the first half of the year, outpacing sales of even small cars, according to a recent report from Autodata.

The SUV comeback follows a period of several years when sales of these large vehicles fell due to the slowing economy, heightened interest in fuel efficiency and the general trend towards the car-based models.

>>Summer's Hot-Selling Cars

Hoping to buck these trends permanently is

Chrysler

, which generated lots of excitement last week when it unveiled the remodeled 2011 Dodge Durango (pictured above). Chrysler says the vehicle "jump-starts Dodge back into the sport utility segment with a three-row vehicle spacious enough to carry the entire crew and performance-tuned to thrill anyone who truly loves to drive."

Chrysler even said that the Durango "will lead the Dodge brand's new product onslaught for 2011." The Durango will be built on the same platform as the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee; Chrysler is promising both performance and SUV capability.

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But while the new Durango is symbolic of where automakers are headed when it comes to the future of the SUV, U.S. car buyers are still not ready to give up the traditional, boxy SUV. Read on for more about four that are currently selling well.

Toyota Sequoia

Toyota

(TM) - Get Toyota Motor Corp. Report

sold 7,992 Sequoias year-to-date through August and is now making some interior trim changes for the 2011 model, which comes with a choice of two V8 engines, a 4.6-liter that was introduced for the 2010 model year and the 5.7 liter that it debuted with. With the bigger engine, the Sequoia can tow up to 7,400 pounds.

The 2011 Sequoia starts at $39,580. The 2010 model was selected as best overall value of the year for a full-sized SUV by IntelliChoice; the Sequoia returned to the market for the 2010 model year after Toyota failed to produce a 2009 model.

In August, Sequoia sales totaled 1,059, up 39% from a low base of 792 in the same month a year earlier.

Ford Explorer

The

2011 Ford Explorer was introduced in a flurry of publicity, which included a Midtown Manhattan/Herald Square unveiling in July. Ford said the vehicle, with a starting price of $28,190, has been "redesigned from top to bottom."

Ford

(F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report

has been testing the vehicle in Dubai, the center of an important market for the automaker. "The sweltering heat and humidity conditions of Dubai have helped us develop a better Explorer," said Don Ufford, Ford chief engineer for vehicle engineering, in a prepared statement. "With midday temperatures pushing 125 degrees Fahrenheit -- aggravated by high humidity near the sea coast -- Dubai represents an ideal environment to test and validate vehicle performance in some of the world's most extreme conditions."

Ford sells nearly 10,000 Explorers annually in the Middle East. There the vehicle's various capabilities seem to have far more value than in other venues like the U.S., where a typical expedition might be a drive to the shopping mall.

In Dubai, by contrast, Explorer's terrain management sand mode might come in handy -- it allows for some wheel spin at initial throttle in order to gather momentum and limit slippage.

Year-to-date, Explorer sales are up 22% to 39,101, although they declined 47% to 2,474 in August. Meanwhile, Ford Expedition August sales rose 58% to 2,640. Year-to-date through August, Expedition sales totaled 23,625, up 30%.

Chevy Tahoe

The Chevrolet Tahoe remains the market's best-selling SUV.

General Motors

had sold 49,721 through August, including 6,119 in August. The year-to-date total was up 17.3% from the same period a year earlier.

The 2011 Tahoe starts at $37,570. Chevrolet notes that with a 5.3L V8 engine and "active fuel management," the Tahoe gets 21 miles per gallon, which is better than the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada or the Toyota Sequoia.

Infiniti QX56

The 2011 Infiniti QX56 went on sale in June.

Nissan

has completely remade the vehicle and seems to have provided sufficient styling and engineering differentiation to assure that it is viewed as a luxury Infiniti rather than a Nissan Armada.

Made in Kyushu, Japan and equipped with an engine built in Tennessee, the QX56 is a very big car, six inches longer than the Chevy Tahoe.

In August, sales were up 105% to 1,249. The QX56 starts at $57,650.

--Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.