Think the idea of a Bentley SUV is hard to fathom: How about two utes from the stately British marque? That’s one of the maker’s two top priorities, according to Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer.
And Bentley is far from alone. Porsche already has two utes in its line-up with the launch of the 2015 Macan. Rolls-Royce has confirmed it has an all-wheel-drive model in development. And even Lamborghini and Aston Martin appear ready to join the fray.
The rapid move into the utility-vehicle segment by some of the world’s most exclusive manufacturers probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. It reflects the overall shift in the automotive market. According to data from IHS Automotive, sport- and crossover-utility vehicles will outsell sedans in the U.S. this year for the first time.
And some of the early utility vehicle pioneers in the luxury market are experiencing huge sales gains. The original Porsche entry, the Cayenne, generated plenty of skepticism when it first came to market in 2002. It is now the German brand’s top-seller, though it may soon be usurped by the smaller Porsche Macan.
BMW scored big with the original X5 and now offers an array of small, medium and large versions of what it prefers to call sports-activity vehicles. It has stretched the boundaries even further with coupe-like models such as the X6 and X4.
Mercedes was another early entrant into the luxury ute segment with the original Gelandewagen, a military-oriented off-roader that was relatively short on creature comfort. A new version of what is now known as the G-Class SUV was unveiled this week and joins a wide range of off-roaders and “soft-roaders, from the compact GLA to the big GL.
(Aston Martin gets $300 million to build new crossover. For details, Click Here.)
Audi has a wide range of SUVs in its line-up, as well, and with plans to increase the size of its overall model-mix by 50% before decade’s end, more are on the way.
But it’s only recently – with one notable exception – that the SUV boom has pushed into the upper reaches of the luxury market. That’s changing fast.
- Lamborghini briefly offered the LM002, which earned the nickname the “Rambo Lambo,” between 1986 and 1993, producing a grand total of 328. The Italian maker is now giving serious consideration to a long-rumored successor based on its Urus concept. According to wire reports out of Italy, in fact, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government is considering up to 100 million Euros in tax breaks to encourage the move, in return for about 300 jobs Lamborghini says the Urus project would create;
- Maserati will offer its own Italian interpretation of an SUV when it rolls out the production version of its Levante later this year. Originally appearing in concept form as the Maserati Kubang, it borrows from the more mainstream Jeep Cherokee – also produced by parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. But the Levante will be powered by a Ferrari-made 560-hp V-8.
- Tesla Motors will add its second product line, the Model X, a battery-electric SUV that will be visually distinguished by its unusual “falcon wing” folding doors. The project has been repeatedly set back but CEO Elon Musk promises to have the new model in production by late in 2015. Expect a price tag above the current Model S sedan, likely to nudge towards the mid-$100,000 range.
Meanwhile, Aston Martin this month announced it has lined up a £200 million, or roughly $300 million, cash infusion from its key shareholders, money that it will use to build several new models including a production version of the DBX crossover revealed at the Geneva Motor Show several months ago. Unlike the three-door concept, however, Aston officials have told TheDetroitBureau.com buyers will get a five-door SUV.
(Click Here for details about Bentley’s future product plans.)
Rolls-Royce confirmed long-rumored plans to add an SUV to its line-up in February. And lest you think it will be nothing more than a high-line soft-roader, you can expect something far more capable, officials have promised. They don’t actually use the words, “sport-utility vehicle,” however, referring instead to a “high-bodied car with an all-aluminum architecture…that can cross any terrain.”
Bentley had to listen to the same skeptical and often derisive reaction once reserved for Porsche when it announced plans to add an SUV to its mix several years back. But the mood has clearly shifted and some analysts predict what is now known as the Bentayga could soon become the British marque’s best seller. The production version is expected to debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show next autumn.
Bentley apparently is so upbeat about its options that it is giving serious thought to adding a second, lower-range utility vehicle. A final decision hasn’t been made, according to CEO Durheimer, who told British magazine Auto Express, “We are a fairly small company and can’t have too many balls in the air at the same time.”
(To see more about the Rolls-Royce luxury SUV that coming, Click Here.)
But the company is clearly looking to expand its product range and the only question is whether to first go with a production version of the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept, or another SUV, Durheimer says that, “they are our main two search criteria.”
Considering the shifting shape of the global auto market, from bottom to top, few would be surprised if Bentley gave the nod to a second SUV.