Luxury carmakers are falling over themselves to tap into a growing trend for crossover compact SUVs, targeting young urban professionals who want a sporty feel with high-end cachet, AFP reports.
Porsche, Jaguar and Mercedes have all developed models of a car type which has traditionally been the preserve of middle-market standards like the Ford Escape, Dodge Durango or Toyota Highlander.
At the Los Angeles auto show, which opened to the public Friday, Porsche added its new Macan to the growing field of small SUVs aimed at the young and well-off who may be intimidated by the luxury brand's more traditional -- and expensive -- models.
"Some years ago . . . the global demand was about 65 million vehicles a year. This is expected to grow till the end of the decade to a figure around about 100 million," Porsche sales and marketing chief Bernhard Maier told AFP.
"So it will be an annual increase since the beginning of the decade to the end of approximately 3 percent, but the luxury part of that growing by 4.5-4.6 percent."
Porsche had already shaked up its range with the four-wheel-drive Cayenne SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). But the Macan is "clearly focused on those customers who are living in an urban surrounding, in bigger cities . . . but also don't want to get rid of an SUV," said Maier .
Anna Kleinebreil, assistant product manager for Mercedes' GLA compact crossover which it aims to launch next autumn, said the German carmaker is aiming at a "younger group and young at heart."
Its target customers are "people in general that have a very active lifestyle, more urban focused than some of the other SUVs," she said.
"Because realistically speaking, none of the customers take the car off road. It's capable of that, but it's really meant for a more urban lifestyle," she told AFP.
By aiming for a younger clientele, the high-end carmakers also hope to gain loyal customers who might go on to buy even more luxurious sedans, as they grow older and wealthier.
"In America, the average customer is about 52 years old for Porsche, in China it's below 40 years" thanks to the success of the Cayenne, said Maier.
Jaguar, now owned by India's Tata Motors, has had no other choice but to join the trend, while being careful not to compete directly with its own sister brand Land Rover, whose Range Rover was the pioneer of the luxury SUV.
In Los Angeles it presented the C-X16, a compact crossover concept car which could hit the market from 2016.
"Clearly the ambition of the brand is to grow globally, to become a more relevant and accessible proposition, beyond the sports cars and the very high-end sedans that we're running at the moment," said Jaguar product marketing director Steven De Ploey.
"And if you look worldwide, what is the fastest-growing segment, the segment that has the most appeal to a more progressive younger audience? You're into the SUV and the crossover territory."
Lincoln, Ford's luxury brand, also has the MKC small crossover, which it hopes to use to grab some of the growing market.
"One amazing thing about this segment is, there's a lot more conquest in this segment . . .There's a lot more people switching brand and there is not really a dominant player, which makes it a great opportunity for us," said Lincoln marketing director Jeff Reid.
"We really feel that this will get our demographics close to the core of the luxury market, a younger and higher-income customer," he added.
By Romain RAYNALDY