A recent announcement by Aston Martin that it will go off road soon confirms that the ranks of aristo SUV’s are now filled, just about. Anything is now possible.
The Cadillac Escalade arrived first in 1999, an SUV from a marque known for limousines and stately sedans. Because Cadillac’s brand value lay in the ditch by then, nobody minded much: more kitsch, they said. However, it was an inspirational move from a brand that has often – though unintentionally – led the way. Lincoln dressed up a Ford pick-up to make it into the Blackwood in 2001 and got a three year run before really piling on the trim for the 2005 Mark LT.
The Porsche Cayenne arrived next in 2002 and started a long debate about whether Porsche was straying from its roots. That the car looked dire didn’t help and perhaps was the real basis for the heated discussion. There has been something of a pause in the meantime as the dust settled. Then the Aston Martin Lagonda concept of 2009 met a similar hail of contempt from purists, based as it was on a Mercedes G-class vehicle. Nothing came of that for the moment.
Bentley floated the vile EXP-9F in 2012 and it will appear as the Bentayga in 2016, in a form slightly less vile than before. The Rolls Royce Cullinan is due in 2017. In the interim, Maserati announced some vapour ware, the proposed 2016 or 2017 or 2018 Levante or Kubang; and the Jaguar F-Pace SUV is due any moment, having being announced at the 2015 IAD in Detroit.
Aston Martin will be building the DBX in the near future (which prompted this article), and even as I write, I find today that Lamborghini will be making an SUV similar to the Urus concept car shown in 2012 (I forgot that one, there have been so many).
By my reckoning, and assuming nothing happens overnight between writing this and publication, that leaves Ferrari without an SUV in their portfolio. The real question is not how long Ferrari will wait before announcing such a car. The real question is why there was such a hiatus between it becoming apparent that Porsche’s Cayenne was not going to destroy the brand and everyone else piling in to the same game.
It is also makes plain that the cosy ideas I grew up with of fixed brand identities were as quaint as the notion of species never evolving. The Mercedes Benz 190E seemed like a crash of seismic scale, the notion that Mercedes could make something partially affordable. Exclamation mark. It took a long time then for the brands’ identities to reveal their elasticity.
Diesel engines in an Alfa? In a Maserati? Commonplace, obvious even. Jaguar estate cars? Natch. And so it goes with Rolls Royce making an SUV. It won’t be a badge engineered joke like the Blackwood and Escalade. It will be lavish, well made and capable. It reminds us of the oft-neglected fact that car companies are there to make money. If it became necessary for Aston Martin to make chocolate bars for the Chinese market, they would.
All this reflects the Chinese market’s complete lack of interest in the cosy notions of brands and heritage that we nurtured here for so long. The market demands products to fill niches and it shall be served. The day it asks for something else, it will get that too.