Luxury carmakers veer into booming SUV space
Porsche's Macan Turbo is displayed at the group's stand of the Geneva Motor Show, on March 4, 2014 - by Pierre Albouy
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 grey 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," head of Porsche sales and marketing Bernhard Maier told AFP, pointing out that in Germany the line of buyers was so long deliveries would take about six months.
Once known only as a sports car maker, the company has lead the charge of luxury car builders seeking to grab a slice of the booming and super trendy SUV segment.
After showing the way just over 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 moved on to its baby sister.
With 340 horses under its clamshell bonnet for the S version, the compact SUV will hit European showrooms next month with an asking price of around 60,000 euros.
As it moves into this new segment, the maker of the iconic 911 is broadening its range and appears to be on a steady course towards the 200,000 car sales a year mark.
Porsche is set to push out a cool 50,000 Macans a year from its factory in Leipzig, Germany, and is making it pricier than the basic versions of its competitors Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes' 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 AFP.
He hailed the carmaker for "managing to transmit the aura of its brand to other types of vehicles" by ensuring that the race car DNA shines through, in the engine and design.
- After Porsche, Bentley, Maserati, Lamborghini? -
A number of other luxury carmakers meanwhile are set to follow Porsche's lead.
British Bentley says it will launch an ultra-powerful model of SUV for the super rich in two years time, in a bid to reach its target of doubling its sales to 15,000 cars each year by 2018.
Industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said such a vehicle would likely cost around 180,000 euros -- not enough to make the target buyers in Russia, China and the Middle East wince.
Italy's Lamborghini, which like both Bentley and Porsche, belongs to Volkswagen, unveiled its SUV concept Urus two years ago, but is still waiting for VW to greenlight the project.
"The market potential would in the US, in Middle East, in China and in some European markets," Lamborghini chief Stephan Winkelmann told AFP.
And Maserati, which belongs to Italian Fiat, has hinted its Levante luxury crossover SUV might hit the market next year.
British Rolls-Royce, 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 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 sales chief Jolyon Nash told AFP, pointing to the strong growth and rosy outlook for the segment.
"But the big question for us is are we able to design, a car that is an authentic Rolls-Royce?" he said.
British Land Rover, which takes credit for inventing the concept of luxury 4x4s decades ago, insists its not worried by the new competitors in its traditional market, with brand designer Richard Woolly stressing the company's "true heritage".
Jaguar, which like Land Rover is owned by Indian Tata Motors, also aims to profit from that long experience: Last September it presented its own SUV concept, the C-X17.