The premium SUV segment also is growing because automakers are creating sub-niches or expanding into those niches. BMW’s mid-sized X6 was the first premium coupe-styled SUV. It will be joined by the X4 compact-sized, coupe-styled SUV this year. Audi and Mercedes plan to launch their own coupe-styled SUVs.
Audi unveiled a coupe-SUV concept at the Beijing auto show last month that a spokesman described as “another possible member of the TT family, with more of an SUV emphasis.” The model will rival the X4. At the same show Mercedes revealed the Concept Coupe, which is expected to rival the X6. “We see a great deal of potential for Mercedes in the combination of a coupe and SUV,” Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Mercedes’ parent, Daimler, said in a statement during the company’s annual shareholders meeting last month. The concept, a coupe version of the ML SUV, is expected to evolve into a production model next year that will be badged as the MLC.
Also competing at the sportier end of the SUV market is Porsche’s newly launched Macan, the German automaker’s second crossover after the larger Cayenne, which finished 10th in European premium SUV sales last year. Porsche sales boss Bernhard Maier is bullish about the Macan and the segment overall. “This segment has had tremendous growth and is expected to be fastest-growing segment globally in the future,” Maier told Automotive News Europe.
Premium brands also will be targeting buyers looking for both smaller, cheaper SUVs as well as crossovers that are larger, more exclusive and cost six digits. Audi has confirmed that in 2016 it will start building the subcompact-sized Q1 in 2016. The Q1 likely will be based on parent Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform, a spokesman said. The Q1 will be the fourth crossover added to Audi’s lineup since the Q7 debuted in 2005. Audi sales boss Luca de Meo told ANE that “expanding our Q-line of SUVs is the top priority at Audi.”
Meanwhile, Audi sister brand Bentley will debut its first luxury SUV in 2016, adding a variant with a plug-in hybrid powertrain a year later. “We would like to solve the problem for people who’d like to spend more on an SUV,” Bentley sales boss Kevin Rose told journalists recently. He predicted Bentley’s SUV would cost more than 140,000 pounds (about 170,000 euros).
While the overall segment is expected to rise, the arrival of smaller-sized premium SUVs has coincided with declining sales of the larger-sized vehicles in the segment. IHS figures comparing 2013 European sales with those of 2007 show that the Q7 has slumped 74 percent, the X5 fell 68 percent, the Lexus RX slipped 58 percent, the ML dipped 48 percent and the Volvo XC90 is down by 73 percent. (The second-generation XC90 will debut this year and deliveries will start in 2015). The trend will continue to favor smaller premium SUVs, according to LMC. Said Poskitt: “It means that car buyers have had greater choice within a brand’s range. Or more alternatives if they were considering more expensive non-premium vehicles.”