SUVs – road closed?

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Sod the expense, the environment and the parking problems. The important thing is to be a foot higher than your fellow drivers. SUVs (sports utility vehicles) are becoming the must-have accessory for the man or woman about town, despite them being neither sporty nor, for many drivers, particularly useful. Consumers are snapping them up in increasing numbers. According to data from LMC Automotive, global SUV sales will grow 30 per cent by 2015. Three years ago, they accounted for 9 per cent of global light vehicle sales. In three years’ time, that will have risen to 14 per cent.

Manufacturers like them, too. As well as providing a nice boost to sales, they help margins. The premium prices charged for SUVs are way in excess of the extra raw materials required to build them. Porsche, which generates about half its sales from the Cayenne, its SUV, is expected to make an operating margin of 19 per cent this year, according to Morgan Stanley. Margins at rival carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW are only about half of that. Everyone is getting in on the act – even Maserati is planning to launch one.

But not everything is rosy in SUV land. There has been talk this week that Bentley and Lamborghini, both Volkswagen-owned, could delay their planned SUVs. That says much about both the costs of launching a new model and the state of the European car market. Volkswagen – one of the better-performing European manufacturers – said on Friday that its volumes in western Europe (outside Germany) fell 6 per cent in the first three quarters of the year.

Still, not everyone would be disappointed if Bentley and Lamborghini delayed their SUVs. Both have fans among the purists of the car world who are horrified at the idea of a jazzed-up Bentley or an outsize Lamborghini built for the weekly shop. Some marques should remain kid-free.

Email the Lex team in confidence at lex@ft.com

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