The number of premium car offerings is on the rise. And, following the example of BMW and Mercedes, Audi too is expanding its sports utility family – giving birth to a younger sister of the Q3. Moreover, the brands sitting higher up the automotive food chain are also taking note…
It all began with the Audi Q7 in 2006. In a short span of time, there was the Q5 (2008) and the Q3 (2011). In 2016, the Q1 will come forth – as confirmed last December by Audi HQ. The range of sports utility models from Ingolstadt has grown to half-a-dozen cars, including the ultra sporty RS Q3 and SQ5. This range varies in length from as little as 4 metres, all the way to over 5 metres. Of course, they have prices to match.
Like the best Matryoshkas – the Russian dolls that can contain up to eight reproductions (one smaller than the other) within themselves – little is left to the imagination.
NICHE BY NICHE
Audi isn’t the only automaker that wants to capture all categories of the market – well, at least, those in the premium segment. After all, the competition gets pretty intense when the category in question has the ability to defy market slowdowns. So, it comes as no surprise that BMW is determined to retain its top-spot in global luxury sales. In response to the offensive from Ingolstadt, BMW is preparing to respond with another crossover of its own. And while the model name is still not known, the intention clearly is. It could well end up being called the X City, and will be positioned under the X1 when it’s launched from 2016 onwards. This will bring the SUV count to five from Munich. All in all, the year 2020 will see three times the number of models as compared with 2005.
In third place in the luxury race is Mercedes, which is now readying to reap the fruits from the launch of its compact crossover – the GLA. Mercedes is also readying an ultra urban crossover, the X Class, to further expand its line up by 2018.
NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM
In the words of Aristotle, nature abhors a vacuum – and so automakers are running to fill any space in the market that they can carve out. The fact is that the SUV and crossover space continues to bring in new buyers for each of these brands. After all, every manufacturer in the premium and ultra luxury segments, from Mercedes to Rolls-Royce, registered record sales last year, as seen from the table on page --- – all thanks to the tycoons in the Chinese and Russian markets, not to mention the fact that customers in the US have begun loosening their purse strings as well.
But it’s the models with greater features at an attractive price that’ll manage to draw in new customers for its brand. Audi, for instance, foresees an increase in its SUV sales to 35% (currently at 28%) by 2020. The Q family, after all, has been able to rack up sales of up to a million-and-a-half vehicles sold since launch.
The Q1 will be expected to have the same impact as the A1 for Audi. Out of every 100 A1’s sold, it manages to bring 75 new customers to the brand with four rings. As underlined by the boss in Ingolstadt, Rupert Stadler, “The entry segment helps the brand to stay young, and brings the younger generation to our dealers – on whose brand loyalty we would depend on in future.”
Widening the number of choices ‘at the base’ has other advantages as well for automakers –who are always under pressure, due to increasingly severe environmental norms. So, selling more cars that consume and pollute less has become an obligatory choice for premium brands.
AN OUTDATED CONCEPT
Customers have given up on the idea that an SUV should be equipped to be driven off-road. So, all-wheel drive is pretty much an outdated concept in today’s market. With an ever-increasing number of crossovers, new-age SUV’s are getting lighter and mechanically much simpler. The capacity for an off-road adventure simply isn’t as important as style and providing a commanding view of the road.
Consenting to enter this scene are players who – owing to their tradition and character – would have been considered impossible entrants at one time. After all, none other than Rolls-Royce is toying with the idea of an SUV – hoping for, who knows, exploits like those that Porsche has had with the Cayenne.
Will Rolls enter the fray?
If concepts from Lamborghini, Maserati, Jaguar and Bentley are slated to go on to production, can Rolls-Royce be far behind?
Ten years ago, it was Porsche’s turn to shatter a taboo. Today, however, it won’t scandalize anyone if Maserati, Lamborghini, and Jaguar express their desire to diversify their line-up with an SUV. The first to make its debut will be the crossover from Maserati – the Levante, which is on the waitlist for 2015. In Modena, they’re considering producing more than 20,000 units per year. 2015 should also bring the crossover from Jaguar – the C-X17 concept, which has been shown at various shows around the world. The Urus from Lamborghini (which is a second attempt of sorts, after the LM002 from the 80’s) is still waiting for a go-ahead from the Volkswagen group – which is expected anytime.
And a go-ahead has already been granted for an SUV from another guarded super-premium brand – Bentley. The concept of this yet-unnamed car that was presented last year at Geneva has been reviewed, and will go into production in 2016 – packing 575bhp and a stratospheric pricetag. A decision that has induced another two ‘unlikely’ marques – i.e. Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin – to consider (or reconsider) the SUV hypothesis.