It’s astonishing how much the market for luxury SUVs has grown in the United States over the last decade. While SUVs used to be almost the exclusive domain of domestic manufacturers, high-end imports now are the major force in the North American SUV market – with a few exceptions such as the Cadillac SRX and Escalade. In fact, luxury brands now account for more than 15% of the SUVs and crossovers sold in the US, with total sales well in excess of 500,000 vehicles per year. It’s also surprising which brands are dominating the luxury SUV market – while you might expect that Japanese players such as Lexus and Infinity ranked at the top, you would be wrong – European car manufacturers are leading the way.
Here are the most popular European luxury SUV manufacturers, based on sales in the first four months of 2013.
At the front of the pack is the German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz, which sold more than 33,500 Mercedes SUV models during the period. Mercedes continues to be synonymous with high quality, and offers a wide range of SUVs in the US market. The most popular is the mid-sized M-Class, which sold nearly 12,500 units. Close behind come the full-sized GL-Class and entry-level GLK, both of which saw sales of a little more than 10,000. Coming in a distant fourth was the G-Class, which is not entirely surprising since this is a specialist vehicle which has military roots. That having been said, despite the fact that the GL-Class was supposed to replace the G-Class when it was introduced in 2006, the G-Class remains in production. This makes it the vehicle with the longest production history in the Mercedes-Benz lineup – it’s been around for 32 years.
Germany also takes second place with BMW, which sold a little less than 31,500 SUVs in the first four months of 2013. BMW is a more recent arrival in the SUV market than Mercedes-Benz, with its oldest vehicle, the X5, first coming to market in 1999. There are three vehicles in the BMW SUV range – the X5, the X3 and the X1. The X5 is the largest of BMW’s SUVs, although it still falls into the midsize SUV category and is not in the same league as the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. The X3, introduced in 2003, is perhaps not a true SUV but rather a crossover that is based on the BMW 3-Series platform. The X1 is the newcomer, a compact crossover that was launched as recently as 2009.
The venerable British car manufacturer now owned by Tata has been making inroads into the US luxury SUV market, although at a little less than 16,000 vehicles, it sells less than half of what Mercedes-Benz does. The most popular models are the Range Rover Sport – a luxury midsize SUV that started production in 2004 – and the Range Rover Evoque, the company’s 2011 entry into the compact SUV category. The full-sized Range Rover continues to be relatively popular, selling nearly 3,500 units during the period. Land Rover also produces the LR2 and LR4, which are known respectively as the Freelander and Discovery in Europe – although it could be argued that neither of these fall into the same luxury SUV category as Land Rover’s other offerings.
Audi has two vehicles that it sells in the luxury SUV category, the Q5 and the Q7. Of these, the mid-sized Q5 crossover SUV outsells its full-sized sibling the Q7 by more than three to one. Again, Audi is a relatively new entrant into the SUV market, with the Q7 going into production in 2006, and the Q5 following in 2009.
Volvo has built its reputation over many years on solid, reliable family cars that are just a little bit dull. However, both its compact XC60 and mid-sized XC90 have more style than Volvos of years gone by, particularly since the XC90 underwent a major facelift back in 2007. That having been said, the Swedish manufacturer trails behind its German counterparts in terms of units sold, selling a little more than 50% of 4th place Audi, and about 25% of the number of SUVs that Mercedes sells in the US each year.
Finally, bringing up the rear is Porsche, making the total score for German carmakers rise to four. However, it is worth noting that this is based just on the sales of the Cayenne, which still remains one of the most popular luxury SUV models in the US. This is in contrast to other luxury manufacturers, which typically have several models available. That having been said, it is likely that Porsche’s volumes will rise significantly once the new Macan – Porsche’s entry into the compact SUV segment – starts to show up in the sales numbers. In fact, some analysts are predicting that the Macan may go on to be the biggest seller in Porsche’s entire vehicle lineup.