10 Years Later, SUVs Remain Vital for Luxury Brands
It has been over a decade since the BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Acura MDX and others took the luxury segment by storm. Over time, many may have forgotten what kind of impact this new group of vehicles made on their companies' bottom lines, but they — along with smaller crossovers — still play a major role in the market.
Like NFL fans who didn't fully realize what they were missing until replacement referees embarrassed the league, Infiniti dealers weren't completely aware of how successful a proper crossover could be until the JX arrived. Sales of the two-row, overtly sporty FX had fallen every year since 2004. The big QX, though surprisingly successful, competes in a lower-volume sector. In September, the JX made up 24% of all Infiniti sales. Although the JX, now the brand's best-selling utility vehicle, has been on sale only since March, Infiniti's four SUVs and crossovers have been responsible for 39% of the brand's 86,596 sales in 2012. In 2002, Infiniti sold one SUV; it accounted for 19% of the brand's total volume.
What kind of impact does that have on a brand? Total Infiniti car sales for 2012 are up just 2.5%; its "trucks" leapt up 63.6%. The brand overall for 2012 is up 20%.
Its status as an SUV or a crossover is up for debate, but BMW's newest model in the U.S. wears an X badge. The X1 helped drive BMW's Sport Activity Vehicle division - including the X3 and X5 - up to 9,066 units in September, 42% of the brand's total. The X1 doesn't appear to have hurt the X3's chances at success, either. X3 sales are up 38% since the X1 went on sale. In 2002, BMW's lone SAV, the X5, accounted for 18% of the brand's total volume.
In September, BMW car sales were down 7.4% while its trucks were up 18.2%, keeping sales flat overall.
Acura's second-generation RDX has been a hit for Honda's upscale division since arriving earlier this year. RDX sales have risen 86% year over year through the first three quarters of 2012. Together with the popular MDX and the forgotten ZDX, Acura's three crossovers were responsible for 53% of the brand's sales in September.
In comparison with the storied past of Porsche's 911, the lifespan of the company's Cayenne SUV is brief. The Cayenne's success since it debuted is well-documented, but September was a particularly productive month on the SUV side of Porsche's ledger. Cayenne sales jumped 47% year over year, a big enough leap to propel the Cayenne to its second-highest sales total of the year. The Cayenne outsold Porsche's four cars combined, albeit by only four units. Porsche didn't sell an SUV in 2002.
Of course, the best-selling premium utility vehicle in America is a Lexus. RX sales are up 18% this year. In September, as a refreshed 2013 RX was heavily advertised, sales jumped 41%. Alone, it accounted for 35% of the brand's sales in September. Year to date, Lexus' three SUVs and crossovers were responsible for 46% of total U.S. volume. That's up from 2002's year-end tally of 36%. Recently, rising ES sedan sales - also thanks to a redesign - have erased some of Lexus' SUV dependency. ES sales shot up 81% in September.
Compared with the first nine months of 2002, the entire new-vehicle market is down 15.4% year to date for 2012. Yet BMW sales are up 4.4%, Mercedes-Benz is up 20.2%, Porsche is up 22.5%, Land Rover climbed 8.8%, and Audi jumped 58.3%. Infiniti is down only 3.6%, Acura fell just 8.3%, and Lexus' decline measured a reasonable 8.1%. The gains aren't solely on the backs of SUVs, but the segment is as vital as ever.