To SUV or Not to SUV

VW opened a new market segment with the announcement of the T-Roc Cabriolet 1 photo
Photo: Volkswagen
Numbers provided at the beginning of 2018 by JATO Dynamics showed that last year over 86 million cars were sold globally. Of them, 34 percent were SUVs, marking the best year for this type of vehicles since their birth in 1966 as the first civilian off-roader, the Ford Bronco.
The global appeal of the consumers for larger, bulkier cars has not been left unanswered by carmakers. There have been more SUVs launched in the past three or four years than in the history of the automobile. And even more, are planned.

Going the SUV way is the common-sense decision for companies that sell cars to the masses. We get why Ford, Opel or Nissan do it. But what about niche companies, the ones that do not make cars, but build them? The likes of Ferrari, Bentley, Maserati or Lamborghini?

There have been, over time, all sorts of car designs that rose to power. There was a time when sedans were the new black. Then came convertibles. And hatchbacks. And fastbacks. Now, SUVs.

Regardless of what the masses wanted, niche builders have held their ground, oftentimes saying their cars are special, not mass-produced, but tailored. Cars that do not address mobility needs, but status needs. Prestige.

Until recently, luxury carmakers did not care billions are spent by the masses on sedans. They stayed true to their creed, swaying neither left nor right. The population segment they target is loaded, and they would keep buying a Prancing Horse or a The Spirit of Ecstasy because the sedans of others would never match their appeal.

If there’s one thing about rich folk is that they can’t stand being looked down at. Even when driving, it’s like they sit up, squashing the average Joe with their might and horsepower. And that was true when sedans ruled, when hatchbacks ruled. Not now, when SUVs are all over the place.

It’s hard for rich folk to emanate might when right next to them, in their low-riding sports cars, pulls a much-higher, bulkier SUV. A Chevrolet Suburban, for instance, that would eat their LaFerrari for breakfast in case of a crash.

So, ever since the SUVs began rising to power, customers of luxury brands began turning up the heat on car builders to do something about it.

At first, car builders opposed the idea. Not only did they oppose it, but they also vowed never to create such monstrosities. Jaguar, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari. Never an SUV from them.

But that turned out not to be the case. Most of the brands above are owned by other conglomerates: Bentley and Lamborghini belong to VW, Rolls-Royce to BMW, Maserati to Fiat. All these conglomerates all their brands to make money, including by venturing in realms until one point considered tabu.

As soon the first of them broke rank some three, four years ago, and released the first luxury SUV, there was no turning back for the others. Hit or bust, they all had to do it.

F-Pace, Bentayga, Cullinan, Levante, Urus. These are the names of the SUVs the above car builders did end up making. Because they now see, SUVs are not the black sheep of the auto family, but its new wonder kid.

The one that’s still holding its ground is Ferrari. Just like the others before it, the Prancing Horse was swearing until recently that only over the CEO’s dead body will it ever create an SUV.

For the record, Ferrari’s new SUV is coming as soon as next year.

In February, Volkswagen did the unthinkable and said that in 2020 it would be producing a cabriolet version of the T-Roc SUV.

Imagine such a monstrosity catching on. Imagine Jaguar, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Lamborghini, and Ferrari saying hell no! we’ll never do this! 

Would you still believe them?
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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