Remember the Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet? This US-only soft-top SUV was something of a sales disaster – the result of its design being pushed through by Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn.
The failure of that model taught car manufacturers that launching a niche model for the sake of filling a niche didn’t work, and that even if the design is spot on, an SUV must still drive like an SUV – even with its top down.
And yet the idea of an open-top SUV refuses to go away, with Jaguar Land Rover preparing to launch its Range Rover Evoque Convertible next month. Full-scale wire models of the soft-top Evoque were shown off in London this week, targeting the kind of urban customers that Land Rover is hoping will opt for its niche-within-a-niche SUV.
What makes the Evoque Convertible different to the ill-fated Murano, of course, is branding. Jaguar Land Rover is seen as being a vibrant premium marque, and as such a quirky SUV is exactly the sort of thing it should be making.
And yet, I wonder where this SUV expansion will end. Nissan may believe there are still spaces and sizes to explore in this market, but as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen all continue to launch new SUVs, the industry is in danger of over-catering for the market.
Of course, when the market for SUVs is well and truly saturated, we’ll be left to search for the next ‘big thing’ and the next major market. Any suggestions?