Thu, Mar 06, 2014 - Page 15 News List

Luxury carmakers veer into booming SUV market

AFP, GENEVA

A Dacia Duster SUV automobile, produced by Renault SA, is displayed at the company’s stand on the opening day of the 84th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

Photo: Bloomberg

Massive or small, affordable or off-the-scale pricey: urban sports utility vehicles (SUVs) abound at the Geneva Motor Show as luxury carmakers speed into the lucrative market.

One of the stars of the show, which opened its doors to the media on Tuesday, is Porsche’s new Macan.

Crowds flocked around as the German carmaker unveiled the sleek, dark gray machine for the first time in Europe to great fanfare.

“I can tell you that the intake is already very, very strong. It’s better than we expected,” Bernhard Maier, Porsche’s head of sales and marketing, said, adding that in Germany, the line of buyers was so long that deliveries would take about six months.

Once known only as a sports carmaker, the company has lead the charge of luxury car builders seeking to grab a slice of the booming and super trendy SUV segment.

After paving the way just more than a decade ago with the arrival of its mid-size luxury crossover, the Cayenne — which today accounts for more than half of its sales — the company has now moved on to the SUV’s baby sister.

As it moves into the new segment, the maker of the iconic 911 is broadening its range and appears to be on a steady course toward reaching the 200,000 car sales-a-year mark.

Porsche is set to push out a cool 50,000 Macans annually from its factory in Leipzig, Germany, and is making it pricier than the basic versions of its competitors: Audi AG’s Q5, BMW AG’s X3 and Mercedes-Benz’s GLK.

Growing faster than any other segment, the new and smaller, yet luxurious SUVs have a knack at drawing in the coveted younger buyers who have yet to develop loyalty to any specific brand.

“The example of Porsche shows that there is also a demand for a new type of car within the luxury segment,” German car industry analyst Stefan Bratzel told reporters.

He hailed the carmaker for “managing to transmit the aura of its brand to other types of vehicles” by ensuring that its race car DNA shines through in the engine and design.

A number of other luxury carmakers are set to follow Porsche’s lead.

The UK’s Bentley Motors Ltd says it will launch an ultra-powerful SUV model for the super-rich in two years, in a bid to reach its target of doubling its sales to 15,000 cars annually by 2018.

Industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said that such a vehicle would likely cost about 180,000 euros (US$247,200) — not enough to make the target buyers in Russia, China and the Middle East wince.

Italy’s Automobili Lamborghini SpA, which like Bentley and Porsche belongs to Volkswagen, unveiled its SUV concept Urus two years ago, but is still waiting for the parent company to greenlight the project.

“The market potential would [be] in the US, in Middle East, in China and in some European markets,” Lamborghini chief executive Stephan Winkelmann told reporters.

In addition, luxury brand Maserati SpA, which belongs to Italy’s Fiat SpA, has hinted that its Levante luxury crossover SUV might hit the market next year.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd — owned by Germany’s BMW— also says it is looking into building a car in the segment, but the company renowned for its refined limousines is wary that the soul of its brand might be lost in the process.

“The SUV segment is a very interesting segment for us to look at,” Rolls-Royce chief of sales Jolyon Nash told reporters, citing the segment’s strong growth and rosy outlook. “But the big question for us is: ‘Are we able to design a car that is an authentic Rolls-Royce?’”

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