Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.
Luxury Utes Balance Business, Style Needs
Makers of sports cars are putting their spin on utility vehicles, which means real estate pros can get more space without sacrificing style.
November 22, 2016
Aston Martin and Lamborghini are both known for their high-performance sports cars, but when the automakers launch two of their most critical models ever — both to be released in 2019 — the focus of the two brands will shift in ways that might have seemed absurd a few years ago. And for real estate professionals, it could make luxury vehicles more usable for their business.
If all goes according to plan, the Aston Martin DBX and Lamborghini Urus — the sports car brands’ interpretation of the SUV — will generate at least 50 percent or more of each company’s sales. But that’s far from precedent-setting. Porsche is already generating its biggest sales numbers from its Cayenne and Macan SUVs. Bentley and even the posh Rolls-Royce will also join the SUV club in the next few years.
This will open up the auto market even more for practitioners who need space to store and travel with yard signs, lockboxes, and other real estate accoutrements — but who don’t want to give up the sleek look and recognition of a luxury brand. Super-premium utility vehicles are “going to be the hottest segment in the luxury market,” says Simon Sproule, chief marketing officer for Aston Martin. “As with the mainstream market, that’s what people want to drive.”
One only has to look at the mainstream automotive market to understand how utility vehicles have changed the game. It wasn’t all that long ago when SUVs made up a minor niche of the market, largely limited in appeal to rugged outdoorsman and workers who needed something that could go anywhere, anytime. That began to change with the introduction of the original Jeep Cherokee, followed by the larger, more stylish and well-appointed Jeep Grand Cherokee. Suddenly, Americans began to trade in their sedans, coupes, and minivans for hipper SUVs.
But it’s not just that utility vehicles are more in style than conventional passenger cars; they offer, on the whole, more interior space than comparable sedans and coupes. That’s great news for real estate pros who may have to shuttle around large families as they look for a new home. Now add the higher ground clearance and go-anywhere technology, such as all-wheel-drive, that keeps agents moving even in the worst weather conditions.
These new offerings offer a more carlike ride and significantly better fuel economy, even while maintaining features like gravel and snow-busting all-wheel-drive. Today, there are still a handful of traditional “truck-trucks,” but even the newest versions of the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder have migrated to car-based platforms. And that’s clicking with car buyers at a record pace. As recently as five years ago, traditional passenger cars made up the majority of the U.S. new-vehicle market. As 2016 draws to a close, light trucks overall account for about 50 percent of the year’s sales, utility vehicles of one form or another making up the vast majority of that category.
Cheap gas certainly has helped. But even if it were to suddenly spike back up to the $4-a-gallon highs of five years ago, says analyst Joe Phillippi, head of AutoTrends Consulting, that won’t have the negative impact on sales we might have seen in the past. “Today’s utes have gotten so fuel-efficient, there’s almost no difference between them and similarly sized cars,” he notes.
Meanwhile, there are a growing number of hybrid and plug-in hybrid utes coming to market. Audi plans to launch a fully electric SUV, similar to the popular Q5, in a couple years. Even Bentley is getting ready to add a plug-in version of its massive new Bentayga SUV. At the other end of the spectrum are models like the all-new Buick Envision and the restyled Kia Sportage.
Today’s utility vehicles come in practically every size and shape you can imagine, from edgy designs like the new Infiniti QX30 to more conventionally styled offerings like the soon-to-launch Volkswagen Atlas. And there will be plenty more to come. The three-row Atlas finally fills a yawning gap in the VW lineup, and the German automaker is considering the addition of a compact ute as well. “It’s no surprise,” says Phillippi. “The world is rapidly moving away from sedans and other passenger cars.”