News of a Bentley SUV shocked the automotive and luxury worlds, as the traditional British hallmark of restrained and traditional passenger car style was now entering the world of “luxury trucks.” The very notion of Bentley even making an SUV inspired spirited debates within the motoring press about whether of not the brand should even be entering into this market. While some auto reporters and car enthusiasts were quick to denounce Bentley entering into this segment, there were some that would have said the same thing 20 years ago if you had told them that BMW and Audi were entering the SUV market. It is important to asses where the market was when other luxury car makers entered the SUV world and how that turned out for them before forming an opinion on Bentley’s decision to create an ultra-luxury SUV.
The Bentley SUV has been approved for production but other details have been scarce. Common sense dictates that this model will start out well above the $200,000 mark and will hit the market sometime in 2014 as a 2015 model. Bentley will likely make use of existing engines to power the ultra-luxury SUV; the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 is likely to be the standard engine, while the monstrous twin-turbo 6.0-liter W-12 engine could be an optional engine for those seeking over the top performance from their well-appointed luxury SUV.
Land Rover Range Rover “Classic” – 1970
While Land Rover was not a luxury brand prior to the creation of the Range Rover, the Range Rover model practically created the luxury SUV segment by taking the brand’s off-road heritage and dressing it up in a distinguished package filled with luxury amenities. The creation of the Range Rover established Land Rover as a luxury brand and made them the standard by which all over premium SUVs would be measured. This was a gentleman’s truck upon release and remains the current benchmark for luxury SUVs after more than four decades at the top of the market.
Mercedes G-Class – 1979
Mercedes developed the G-class as a service-oriented vehicle primarily intended for military use. The robust chassis and timeless design created the perfect basis for Mercedes to transform the utilitarian vehicle into a luxury offering. Early models were strictly about function, but as the years progressed, Mercedes began offering more and more luxury amenities and creature comforts in the G-Wagon, creating the first German luxury SUV. The vehicle’s desirability climbed throughout the 90s and an entire cottage industry was built around grey-market importation of the luxury SUV. This inspired Mercedes to finally bring the G-Wagon to the United States through its own distribution channels, and also gave rise to the ML-Class and the multiple other SUVs sold by Mercedes-Benz today.
Lamborghini LM002 – 1986
While many scoffed at the 2012 Lamborghini Urus concept, the vehicle was not the first SUV to don the Lamborghini badge. Lamborghini was certainly not new to the SUV game as shown by the ultra-rare and over-the-top LM002 SUV. Produced from 1986 to 1993, just over 300 examples of the LM002 were produced, making it one of the rarest SUVs ever manufactured. Lamborghini sourced the V-12 engine from the venerable Countach, and some models were even offered with an optional V-12 marine engine derived from power boats. Everything about the vehicle was over-the-top, but it did not expand Lamborghini’s long-term model offerings or market share, and was more of a peculiarity in the Italian car company’s history.
Lincoln Navigator – 1998
Initially, the Navigator was a massive success for the struggling Lincoln brand, providing parent company Ford with a cash cow that generated high profit margins. While the vehicle was based around the existing Ford Expedition which kept R&D costs down and allowed Ford’s luxury division to benefit from economies of scale, the demand for the vehicle dropped off after 2008 due to rising fuel prices and financial turmoil in the United States. Although the Navigator is no longer a beacon of American luxury SUVs like it once was, the vehicle still carried Lincoln through some tough times. The troubles of Lincoln have little to do with the Navigator itself, and have more to do with mismanagement of the brand and a loss of focus on where the Lincoln nameplate fits in the marketplace.
Cadillac Escalade – 1999
With the monster popularity of the Chevy Suburban and Tahoe models making General Motors’ investors happy, the company decided to create an upscale model for its Cadillac division. The original Escalade was just a re-badged Tahoe with all the options checked, but subsequent iterations of the Escalade offered increasing differentiation from the Chevrolet models upon which they were based. The Escalade has consistently been a runaway sales success for Cadillac, giving consumers a very well-appointed SUV with the ruggedness one would expect from a vehicle built on a Chevrolet truck platform. What could be more fitting for Cadillac than a chrome trim-laden land yacht with the space of some people’s living rooms? Conspicuous consumption goes hand-in-hand with Cadillac and SUVs. This was a match made in heaven for the General.
BMW X5 – 2000
With Mercedes already in the SUV game with the G-Wagon and ML-Class models, BMW came into the marketplace to keep up with its chief German rival. BMW purists might have initially gawked at the idea of an SUV carrying the “ultimate driving machine” designation, but BMW was wise to this and marketed its initial SUV offering, the X5, as a “sports activity vehicle.” The brand equipped it with the sportiest driving dynamics of any SUV on the market, differentiating it from its competition and making it the SUV of choice for driving enthusiasts forced into the SUV market. The X5, particularly the X5 M, proved that practicality is not inherently linked to “beige” appliances. The X5 also opened the gates for multiple “sports activity models” from BMW, allowing the German premium brand to keep customers in its showrooms regardless of their vehicular needs.
Porsche Cayenne – 2004
While some initially scoffed at the idea of a Porsche SUV, Porsche took the Touareg platform and used it to put the “sport” back into the “utility vehicle.” The Cayenne Turbo S provided the performance one would expect from a vehicle adorned with the prestigious and storied Porsche emblem, and the runaway sales success of the Cayenne range gave the German automaker a profit and volume leader. The importance of the Cayenne’s success to the Porsche brand cannot be overstated since the profitability of the Cayenne is widely hailed as saving Porsche’s ledger sheets, allowing the Stuttgart-based carmaker to keep bringing purists models like the 911 and Cayman.
Audi Q7 – 2007
The Volkswagen PL71 platform was already the basis for the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne models when the Audi Q7 was released. By releasing an Audi variant of this SUV platform, Volkswagen was able to maximize the scale of the platform and offer Audi loyalists an SUV that would keep them from switching over to BMW or Mercedes for their family hauling needs. The Audi Q7 gave the Volkswagen Group’s portfolio a nice entrant slotted between the Touareg and Cayenne price-points and also paved the way for the Audi Q5 SUV which provided Audi with a full range of vehicles for its showrooms.
Bentley – 2014/2015
How does Bentley fit into the current SUV landscape? The Land Rover Range Rover currently stands as the benchmark for luxury SUVs, while the Germans offer a broad range of SUVs that complement their passenger car lineups. American SUVs tend to cater to those who choose their SUVs based on the gargantuan size metric alone. While Porsche is offering high-dollar SUVs with sports car tendencies, there is currently no entry in the ultra-luxury SUV segment, making the market niche the exclusive domain of Bentley when the vehicle finally hits showrooms. Will customers respond to the vehicle? The ultra-wealthy whom this vehicle is targeting do not buy a car out of need, but rather out of want, and will flock to it in droves as long as it retains the bespoke craftsmanship that the Bentley brand has been associated with for decades. Parent company, Volkswagen AG, also need not worry about cannibalizing sales from its other divisions as this model creates an entirely new market that is situated well above that of its Audi and Porsche corporate cousins. Bentley expects to sell 5,000 SUVs annually, making this model a cash cow for the automaker if it meets its projected sales figures. The Bentley EXP 9 F could easily do for Bentley what the Cayenne did for Porsche.
The contributor is excited to see the Bentley EXP 9 F hit the marketplace and he is interested to see if this move causes Rolls Royce to offer a competitor.
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