Despite increasingly stringent fuel and emissions regulations for automakers worldwide and growing American sheepishness about gas mileage, the rule of luxury SUVs is not over.
Not even close.
Next week at the Geneva Motor Show, look for luxury SUVs to dominate the show floor, with sport utility debuts from Maserati, Tesla, and Audi, among others, hitting Europe for the first time.
“The popularity of SUVs, which consumers are willing to pay a premium for compared with their passenger-car-platform mates, is helping boost automakers earnings and profitability,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst at IHS Automotive. “Luxury premium and mainstream brands have nearly all added new SUV products to their lineups—without taking away their traditional sedans.”
Consumer interest in these SUVs is driven primarily by their perceived practicality over sedans. According to Brinley, many customers prefer the higher seating position, better visibility, and more useful cargo space of a utility vehicle.
“Automakers have responded to that demand,” she said.
Many eyes will be on Maserati, which will unveil its first-ever SUV, the Levante. The Italian automaker is one of the final high-end brands to offer an SUV. Bentley’s new Bentayga, which is shipping to customers now, will also be on the Geneva floor in striking “Sequin Blue.” Jaguar’s F-PACE is scheduled for release later this year, and Lamborghini has an SUV in the works. Holdouts include Rolls-Royce, which has said it will never make one, and Ferrari, which has thus far declined as well. The Levante will appear here in Geneva on Monday, and Maserati has said the SUV will offer V6 and V8 engines, with a possible diesel option by 2018.
Tesla, too, will make a splash in Geneva, mostly because it has never shown its falcon-door Model X SUV in Europe.
From the German side, Audi will show its Q2 (formerly referred to as the Q1), which will make it the first of the German premium brands to make an SUV-B (a super-small SUV, usually around 165 inches or less). Audi plans to sell the Q2 as its main SUV when it hits full volume sales in 2018.
Not SUVs … But Close