As each major motor show looms, I start to wonder whether we’re ever going to reach ‘peak SUV’. Most car manufacturers are rushing to tap into the booming customer desire for high-rise vehicles of all sizes, but not all of them can be winners in terms of sales, can they?
At present, though, the appetite for them remains voracious, particularly in the compact SUV segment mined so successfully by the trailblazing Nissan Qashqai and those that have followed.
Similarly, any self-respecting manufacturer wouldn’t dream of rocking up at a motor show these days without some form of shiny new electric or hybrid vehicle with which to showcase its ambitious vision for future mobility.
Setting SUVs and EVs aside, there’s still life in the more traditional market segments, and this is going to be reflected in some manufacturers’ offerings when the Paris motor show gets underway tomorrow.
Look at supercars: the segment only accounts for a fraction of a percentage of the total European car market, so there is an argument that we shouldn’t pay it much heed.
However, these are the cars that make the big headlines and attract customer attention by tweaking our emotions and indulging our automotive fantasies; they project dynamic images for the manufacturers who make them (or at least make good ones). So while the significance is small when looked at in light of the whole industry, the reach and significance are massive for manufacturers.
According to figures presented by industry analyst JATO, the Porsche 911 holds a huge advantage in terms of sales, with 11,701 new examples being registered between the start of January and the end of August this year. Second in the supercar category (which rolls grand tourers in with vehicles like the Lamborghini Aventador and Audi R8) is the Mercedes-AMG GT, of which 1914 were registered in the same period.
It will therefore be interesting to see how the new Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster - which, incidentally, is a comparatively old-school technical proposition in light of some of the advanced hybrids we’ve seen unveiled at some recent shows - is received when it is unveiled to the public at the Paris show.
Of course, Mercedes is also showing off other new vehicles including - no surprise - an electric SUV concept, but the open-topped GT is nevertheless a significant car.
Also consider city cars: we’re told that the market is undisputedly declining, but it certainly can’t be dismissed right now. Fiat won’t think so: JATO reports that the Panda (131,299 units) and 500 (125,599 units) were the biggest selling cars across Europe in this category between January and August.
Certainly, manufacturers might have to refine and adapt their offerings, perhaps by introducing rugged-looking vehicles that play up to SUV design cues while retaining nimble city car dimensions, but there are still ways to find success in more traditional car segments. Which should be saluted, I think, if only because I can’t stand the prospect of everyone driving around in generic boxes. Can you?