automotive addiction.

in defense of the superSUV

May 28, 2020 /// issue no. 134

When the Bentley Bentayga came to market in 2016, I thought I would never see one in the wild. Who would buy a $200,000 SUV? Then it became a common sight as a mom at a neighboring preschool, who frequently dropped her son off in Lamborghinis and Ferraris, decided it was time to put junior in the back seat. This specific Bentayga was done up with a Mansory widebody kit executed by GMP Exotics in Novato, CA.1 Exotic car mom would frequently speed past my kid’s preschool at full throttle, letting every parent and neighbor hear who was boss. I would head to work and frequently see yet another more pedestrian Bentayga that shared my commute route.

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The Porsche Contribution

The Porsche Cayenne was derided by enthusiasts as the end of Porsche. The company was losing its soul. How could a brand so focused on driving experience and performance focus on building family cars? Fast forward two decades and the sales figures tell us that this was just the beginning. Porsche has tripled their car sales in the U.S. from just over 20k units in 1999 to 60k units last year. Those figures include a smattering of hideous 996 911s, but from the chart below you will see that Porsche has consistently sold more SUVs than sports cars since the Cayenne’s introduction.2

Porsche Sales in the 21st Century

For the last few years, nearly two-thirds of U.S. Porsche sales have gone to their SUVs and the Macan has also slowly taken over as the vehicle of choice for Porsche buyers.

From Lorraine Sommerfeld at Driving.ca:

The target demographic for this base Macan is fairly pegged as a 52- to 55-year-old woman. She’s got money – likely a household income in the $350,000 range – and is a prestige buyer. Macan buyers list drive experience, build quality and handling as their top goals; those with significantly lighter household incomes usually have safety, reliability and fuel economy in those spots, so anyone hopping into a Macan is likely coming from within the segment.

I am that woman, if we can be flexible on that income range. What would make me consider the base Macan? Or would I? It’s got the handling, it’s got the power and it’s got that fancy badge. I’m hugely underwhelmed by the cargo space – nearly 48 per cent less than the Q5. I don’t have playpens and hockey bags to haul around (by this age, her kids are driving themselves, right?), but I don’t want to be dropping seats just for groceries.

Sommerfeld hits the nail on the head for the global buyer, but if my intuition is correct, the Macan is also an attainable upscale luxury for young urban professionals of all genders. The Macan is the posh, camping, skiing, night on the town, grocery getter that tells others you have made it. This is confirmed by particular members of my circle of mid-30s tech professionals, but I am sure this extends to other affluent circles.3

Porsche SUV Sales as a Percentage

The SuperSUV

I won’t pretend that the Macan is an affordable car. A base Macan starts at $50,900. This edges over six figures for a well equipped Macan Turbo and bumps up against VAGs new Audi RSQ8 which starts at $113,995. The impact the Macan has on a company like Porsche extends even more so to supercar manufacturers we deem more exotic.

If you weren’t worried about getting Charmin through the coronapanic because you had bags full of dollar bills in the closet, you have quite a few options for your daily driver. There is the aforementioned Bentley Bentayga starts around $165k. The Aston Martin DBX release is just around the corner for a cool $195k. Porsche’s sister company has the Lamborghini Urus starts at $210k. Rolls Royce is all about catering to the customer so they will chat with you about building a Cullinan if you have upwards of $330k. Then there’s everything that has yet to come. McLaren has their GTX concept. The Ferrari Purosangue is expected to start in the mid-$300s. If that’s not spendy enough, Bugatti is planning to build a million dollar SUV.

At the end of the day, these cars make way too much sense for hyper-luxury manufacturers. The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah recently spent tens of thousands of dollars on concrete work building out the garage entrances at Westside Collector Car Storage in West LA.4 Let’s be honest, an Aventador is a terrible daily driver. Nevermind the stress of approaching the Whole Foods lot at the correct angle. If the oat milk explodes in the boot, do we really want to ruin the supercar? The ultra-wealthy need both and they are more than able to pay the prices demanded for a car that will be ruined by the kids in the course of a drive to grandma’s.

For enthusiasts who criticized Porsche for the “brand dilution”, myself included, we should be grateful. Porsche makes upwards of $17,000 per car. If you have ever used Porsche’s configurator you know those option costs rack up fast. These “up-charges” are orders of magnitude more important for low-volume ultra-luxury car manufacturers. The number of SUVs that Porsche moves every year allows them to actually build halo cars that we will never be able to afford and buy used 911s that we will continue to criticize but “reluctantly” pick up after their depreciation curves have leveled off.

The world needs the superSUV because the world needs to continue to have supercars. Children need something to dream of and work for. Us peasants need to live vicariously through Instagram and YouTube videos to pass the time. If we want to see the next Bugatti coupe break production car speed records, we need them to sell more Spartacus SUVs. If we want a better future 911, we should go buy a Macan Turbo.

Coffee time,
Steven

  1. Kudos to the power of the internet for letting me find the actual car I was describing on Instagram. 

  2. I am considering the Panamera a sports car. Come fight me on twitter

  3. If someone at Porsche wants to send me sales and demographic figures by state, province, and country, I would be more than grateful. 

  4. … across the street from the Los Angeles Clippers’ practice facility. You are a genius, Matt. 


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