Last year proved a mixed bag for light-vehicle sales in emerging markets.

While growth continued across most of the emerging Asia-Pacific region, the biggest markets in Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa contracted under pressure from unfavorable macroeconomic conditions.

However 2017 is likely to see a reversal of fortunes, as markets that were in decline in 2016 recover, while high-growth markets slow due to saturation.

Dynamic economic growth in large emerging markets such as China and India has significantly improved the economic prospects for large swaths of the population, but gains in income and especially wealth have been concentrated at the top of the social classes.

While we have seen middle income and wealthy households make significant gains in terms of percentage growth since the 2008 recession, the vast majority of the population is concentrated at the bottom of the income and wealth scales.

This leaves great long-term potential for continued motorization, but for 2017 and the immediate future it implies a limited audience for new cars leading to likely slowing growth in countries such as India, China, and Indonesia.

Income and wealth inequality are a common feature of emerging markets and make these markets particularly susceptible to macroeconomic shocks. A small but growing middle class is reliant on rapid economic growth for wealth accumulation necessary for major purchases like automobiles. Deterioration in the macroeconomic prospects and political instability has an immediate adverse effect on light-vehicle sales, as consumers lack the financial resources to absorb shocks.

Economic decline was the main story in some of the biggest emerging markets in Latin America, Middle East and Africa, as well as Russia and Thailand, where a toxic mix of persistently low commodity prices and political factors severely limited the ability of consumers to make major purchases.

Barring an escalation of political tensions in key regions, we expect the macroeconomic environment to begin to stabilize, allowing pent-up demand in the automotive market to be realized, promoting growth in countries such as Russia, Brazil, Thailand and South Africa.

A resurgent middle class in these markets will result in accelerating growth in demand for inexpensive small SUVs from mainstream brands such as Kia and Hyundai.

Growing demand from middle-class households in emerging markets will be among the key driving forces behind the continued surge in global sales of SUVs, annual sales of which are expected to reach 27.6 million units by 2021, a 30% increase from 2016.

Mykola Golovko is project manager at Euromonitor International, a London-based global market research firm.