Makers of High-End Sports Sedans Climb On The SUV Bandwagon

Nov 24, 2016
Originally published on November 24, 2016 7:49 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some people are struggling in the U.S. economy. That was said to be one message of this year's election. But other people are doing very well indeed. And that's reflected in the market for SUVs. In this time of cheap gas, sport utility vehicles and trucks make up 60 percent of the new vehicle market. And high-end companies are getting into the game now - brands like Maserati, Jaguar and even Lamborghini. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I drive a lot of cars. And it can be a lot of fun. But then sometimes, you know, you need another point of view. So I wanted to get help from a pedestrian. All right. So you know what I'm going to call our pedestrian? She's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's going to describe this SUV for me.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Pedestrian?

GLINTON: Pedestrian - you're standing on the street, right?

KEITH: Yeah, I am standing on the street. OK. It's definitely elevated off the ground. The top is cut off. It's a convertible. It looks like fun. It looks like it's going to be wind in the hair. But there doesn't appear to be much of a trunk. The top is taking up most of the storage space.

GLINTON: So it's an SUV with not a lot of utility.

KEITH: Right. I mean, unless the utility is driving over rocks or something, in which case, it looks like it could maybe do that.

GLINTON: But I don't think that a lot of people are going to be spending $70,000 to drive a Range Rover Evoque over any rock.

KEITH: OK. So then what's the point?

GLINTON: Well, I asked Mark Takahashi who is with edmunds.com that exact question right before I came over to pick you up, and here's his answer.

So who is this car for?

MARK TAKAHASHI: Let's say fashion-conscious urbanites, who have the idea that they'll go out and explore the world.

GLINTON: Takahashi says luxury brands were slow to get on the SUV bandwagon. So think performance cars, such as Lamborghini, or luxury cars, like Bentley.

TAKAHASHI: A lot of manufacturers have said, we need to get more SUVs because that's what selling. That's what people want. Let's make something that's a little more appealing to the city people.

GLINTON: Gas prices and fuel economy rules have led consumers in all categories to go large. Rebecca Lindland with Kelley Blue Book says Porsche is a good example.

REBECCA LINDLAND: The majority of Porsche 911 owners in the U.S. also had an SUV in their garage. And the Cayenne let them have a two-Porsche garage.

GLINTON: Porsche's number one car is an SUV, the Macan. It's number two car is also an SUV, the Cayenne. Lindland says other manufacturers have been watching.

LINDLAND: When you look at the price points that it commands on a fully loaded Cayenne, you're talking 120, $150,000 and up for Porsche. I think some of these manufacturers looked and said, you know, there's money to be made in that game.

GLINTON: Another reason for the current prevalence of luxury SUVs, might not be that obvious - China.

REID BIGLAND: Maserati's are selling very well in the U.S. But the number one market right now for the Maserati Levante SUV is in China.

GLINTON: Reid Bigland runs Maserati for the Fiat Chrysler Group.

BIGLAND: The Chinese are gobbling up SUVs like they're going out of style. This is also looking to expand the brand because the reality is, consumers are moving away from passenger cars. They're moving towards SUVs.

GLINTON: Yeah, they're probably going to have to start calling me the SUV reporter. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.