US sales 2015 first half Premium Large SUV segment

US Premium SUV LargeThe Premium Large SUV segment grew by 7%, a faster pace of growth than the market overall (4%), but decidedely than both the Premium Midsize and Compact segments (26% and 40%, respectively). Nonetheless, it was a respectable performance for what is the largest of the three segments – in fact it is the only case from among all segment groupings (Mainstream, Premium, SUV, SUV Premium) where the largest cars are the most popular. Part of the reason, though, may be in the definition of the segment which deviates from that of non-premium SUVs, and groups cars as disparate as the Lincoln MKX and Cadillac Escalade under the Large banner, for a grand total of 22 models (compared to 17 in Europe).

Lexus RX
2016 Lexus RX

The Lexus RX remains the undisputed market leader, despite being in its final year. With a new, bolder RX about to go on sale this dominance is only set to expand, which is bad news for the competition. In fact, the only trick that Lexus seems to be missing is that it still won’t offer the RX with a 3rd row – it is one of only three models in the top 10 of this segment that don’t offer 3 rows of seating, and while the GX and LX models fill that gap somewhat you have to wonder whether a more modern, monocoque-based model would not sell better (e.g. the Mercedes-Benz GL-class in #6 sells around half as many units as the M-class, while combined the GX/LX sell only around a quarter as many units as the RX). Just something to ponder, Lexus – you don’t want to miss out the way you have been doing by not entering the Premium Compact SUV segment until now, where the NX went straight to #4 in sales.

In second spot is the Acura MDX, though with a 4% drop in sales year-on-year it was almost overtaken by BMW’s new X5, which enjoyed a 30% growth in sales. Both models, along with the Mercedes-Benz M-Class in fourth, are examples of a how the new generation of premium SUVs traded in the muscular looks of the previous generation for less offensive, more aerodynamic looks that make them look like pumped-up wagons more than ever.

Infiniti QX60
Infiniti QX60

Following in #5 is the Infiniti QX60 (née JX), a premium version of the Nissan Pathfinder that clearly has found favor with consumers thanks to its family-friendliness. In fact, its softer looks, better ride and space are clearly in more demand than aggressive looks and Cayenne-chasing handling of its more established brother, the QX70 (née FX), which languishes in 18th spot in sales with fewer than 15% of the units sold.

In #7 is the Lexus GX, the brand’s luxurious take on the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (smaller of the two). In placing as high as it does, it leads the sales charts for body-on-frame SUVs, ahead of other models such as the Cadillac Escalade and its long-wheelbase brother, the Escalade ESV (#9 and #15, respectively, twinned with the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban), the Infiniti QX80 (née QX56, brother of the Nissan Patrol not sold in the US), the ancient Lincoln Navigator (#16, brother of Ford’s Expedition), the evergreen Mercedes-Benz G-class (#20) and the Lexus LX (#21, based on the large Toyota Land Cruiser). Overall, the body-on-frame models accounted for only 17% of the segment in the first half of 2015.
2015 H1 SUV Premium Large

Range Rover Sport
Range Rover Sport

In #8 and #10 are the Range Rover Sport and Range Rover, with the sales of the latter growing especially quickly at 54%. But while the success of the “daddy” Range Rover is good news for JLR, it’s debatable whether they will regard the rate at which the Sport is selling as a success. After all, it’s a brand new model and yet its 14% growth rate is nothing to write home about. One wonders whether the blame does not lie with Range Rover’s confused model strategy, in that it gave its supposedly sporty model a 3rd row, compromising its chances against the likes of Porsche’s Cayenne, but not really luring yummy-mummies away from their RXs or X5s.

Lincoln MKX
2016 Lincoln MKX

In #11 is the first of the three Lincoln models, the soon-to-be-replaced MKX, whose sales were down a whopping 33% (second only to the even older Volvo XC90, whose sales dropped 41%, landing it at the bottom of the sales rankings). Still, it did better on the market than the aforementioned Navigator in #16, or the whale-shaped MKT (#19, sales down 23%). It also beat out the Audi Q7 (#12), which miraculously managed a 1% sales increase in its 8th year on the market. It will be interesting how well the new MKX and Q7 do – I expect especially the latter to do much better when the new model goes on sale.

From among the truly sporty upscale SUVs Porsche’s Cayenne remained top-dog in #13, though it sales were down 8%, suggesting its sales are being cannibalized by its smaller brother, the Macan. Still, it managed to sell more than twice as many units as BMW’s X6 (#17) or Infiniti’s QX70 (#18). While we won’t be able to break them out, it’ll be interesting whether we’ll know how well Mercedes-Benz’s new GLE Coupe will do against this lot.