MILAN (AP) — Supercar makers have long known that parked next to that snarling Lamborghini, racing-red Ferrari, or stately Bentley at some of the globe’s toniest addresses is a practical SUV. With the sport utility vehicle market growing by leaps and bounds, they increasingly want in on those profits.
Lamborghini unveils the once-improbable Urus SUV on Monday at its headquarters in Sant’Agata, Italy, where the supercar maker owned by the Volkswagen group is expanding the factory to meet utility vehicle demand. The Urus enters a luxury field crowded with the Mercedes G-Class, the Bentley Bentayga and the trailblazing Porsche Cayenne — and soon to be joined by Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and, in all probability, Ferrari.
Analysts say that the move into SUVs has become a natural fit for most brands, even supercar makers like Lamborghini, despite the risk of alienating aficionados.
“I think if you look at those brands’ image, I think you would look at an SUV — especially a Lamborghini — as almost a sell-out move. I don’t think that is the case anymore,” Jeff Schuster, senior vice president at LMC Automotive in Detroit. “There is some risk to the purist, who can only see one view of the brand. But as long as they don’t move too far out of who they are, a lineup can include an SUV in these brands. I wouldn’t have said that five years ago.”
From being nonexistent in 2006, high-end SUVs have more than quadrupled in sales since 2010, from 4,700 units to almost 21,000 units in 2016, driven by the Mercedes G-Class and Bentley Bentayga, according to IHS Automotive. The entry of the Urus along with the planned Aston Martin DBX and Rolls Royce “High Side Vehicle” is expected to push those numbers up to 29,300 by 2020. Even Ferrari is considering entering the category, with a decision expected early next year, which could leave McLaren as the only hold-out among supercars.
Luxury SUVS are merely following the mass-market trend. SUVs are the fastest-growing overall segment of the car market, tripling in sales in a decade from just under 8 million units in 2006 to nearly 26.5 million units last year. SUV sales are forecast by IHS Automotive to grow by another 28 percent to over 34 million units by 2020.
Before having a true luxury option, IHS automotive analyst Ian Fletcher said, many SUV owners went to private modifiers and tuners to increase performance and add luxury swag to their off-the-line mass-market vehicle. “A lot of manufacturers said, ‘Oh, we can have a…