SUVs, crossovers keep good times rolling for automakers
New York — The New York auto show is keeping the good times rolling for the U.S. auto industry, with dozens of flashy new offerings with lavish interiors and advanced features.
The debuts come as auto executives say consumer demand is driving them to offer the most luxurious, tech-savvy and expensive vehicles ever — a trend many expect to continue thanks to a strong economy, widespread and available financing.
“Barring any kind of shock, whether it’s a fiscal shock or economic shock or whatever, we think the fundamentals support a good level of industry health over the next couple of years,” Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields after unveiling the Lincoln Navigator Concept on Wednesday.
For vehicles like the Navigator Concept, which featured gull-wing doors to showcase the SUV’s interior, executives focused almost as much or more on the technologies and amenities as the actual designs.
Automakers are more than happy to meet the growing demand for new luxury models and technologies that drive up prices, which in turn lead to higher profits.
“People are opting to buy larger vehicles like SUVs, which are more expensive in nature and more profitable for automakers,” said Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell. “I don’t think we’ve hit a ceiling yet in terms of sales … (and) the price ceiling is even further away.”
Audi of America President Scott Keogh, whose operations have recorded 62 consecutive months of record sales, said the luxury brand will offer 12 new models in the next three years. He doesn’t expect any decline for Audi in the near future.
“I think that we’ve never put ourselves in a better position to succeed ... and now we are going to launch, literally, the most robust cadence we’ve ever had in the history of the segment,” he told The Detroit News.
Keogh said at least one of those models will be the addition of its fourth SUV. The segment, he said, accounts for more than 40 percent of Audi sales, and is expected to increase to 50 percent in the coming years.
The shift away from cars to utility vehicles is occurring at all price points of the industry. Roughly 10 crossovers or SUVs had debuted at the show by Wednesday, including the 2017 Acura MDX, two Jeep Grand Cherokees and the all-new Maserati Levante — the more than century-old brand’s first SUV.
Head of Maserati Harald Wester described the all-new SUV during the unveiling as “a wind of change for Maserati and the luxury SUV market.”
Porsche also debuted a base-model Macan crossover be powered by a four-pot turbo. Until now, the base Macan has been the 340-horsepower, six-cylinder Macan S.
On the other end of the luxury spectrum, Buick, which considers itself “attainable luxury,” expects SUV sales to increase to 70-75 percent from roughly 66 percent in the United States when it has its full line of SUVs in dealerships.
“At the end of the day, the customer comes first and the customers want the SUVs,” said U.S. Vice President of Buick Duncan Aldred. “It’s not just Buick that’s providing them, every manufacturer as you walk around is scrambling to get into these segments.”
Buick introduced the refreshed 2017 Encore subcompact SUV at the New York auto show. It will hit dealerships later this year, joining the all-new Buick Envision midsize crossover/SUV that will arrive in May as well as a larger redesigned Enclave.
Renault Group and Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn attributed much of the success of his companies to the “crossover-ization” of the automotive industry.
“Our growth has coincided with the crossover-ization of the U.S. market, and there appears to be no end in sight for the remarkable growth in crossover here and around the world,” he said.
Ghosn also made comments about forecasters “sandbagging” in their auto sales estimates; he believes a plateau in sales is “possible,” but believes the industry will “under-promise and over-deliver.”
“I think the market will be stronger than what people forecasted both in Europe and in the United States,” he said. “The industry as a whole has never been as healthy as it is now.”