The Ultraluxury-SUV Pitch: Handcrafted Cars Geared for Soccer Moms
Bentley Motors counts the Queen of England, the Sultan of Brunei and Paris Hilton among its clientele. Now, the iconic British limousine maker wants soccer moms, too—provided they can afford the world’s most expensive sport-utility vehicle.
Bentley is joining ultraluxury-car rivals Maserati and Lamborghini in offering a peek at plans to bring silk wool blends, handcrafted wood and leather to the high-riding super rich. Though no price has been set, Bentley says its SUV—complete with 12-cylinder engine and a picnic set with silver and Lalique crystal—could cost north of $180,000.
The trio’s forays mark the latest departure from the plush, custom-made sedans and turbocharged speed demons that traditionally compose the rarefied superluxury realm. In pursuit of new über-wealthy customers and bigger profits, top-of-the-line luxury-car makers are borrowing from poorer cousins such as Porsche and Mercedes-Benz and forging into new territory.
Hot on Bentley’s heels, the Italian exotic sports car maker Lamborghini is widely expected to unveil its vision of a SUV next month at the Beijing Auto Show. Fiat SpA’s Maserati expects to begin production next year of an ultraluxury SUV, the Kubang, that uses the same underpinnings as Chrysler LLC’s Jeep Grand Cherokee but will likely boast a more-than-$100,000 price tag. Bentley and Lamborghini are owned by Volkswagen AG.
Even Ferrari SpA has gotten in on the brand expansion with its first four-wheel-drive “family car,” the four-seat Ferrari FF which starts at $295,000. After the Italian sports-car maker launched the more practical speedster last April, Ferrari sold 800 in 2011, or 11% of its total sales. Its chairman, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, projects 1,000 purchases this year, many in the U.S. and China.
“We want to open doors to new clients that say, ‘I would love to have a Ferrari but I don’t see one that fits my practical necessities,” says Mr. Montezemolo, who estimates at least 40% of its FF customers are first-time Ferrari buyers.
As exotic-auto makers redefine what a superluxury car can be, their executives are attempting a delicate balancing act: maintaining the exclusive cachet of their upper-crust brands while pursuing new wealthy customers that lower-end luxury rivals are currently scooping up. Among the most popular luxury SUVs are Porsche Automobil Holding SE’s Cayenne SUV, BMW AG’s X5 and Land Rover’s new Range Rover Evoque, which start in the $43,000 to $48,000 price range.