Detroit Auto Show: Luxury SUVs Rule

Michael Walker
Audi Q7, unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday.

All-new and revamped SUVs are on the way from Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, BMW and even Bentley.

BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz introduced new SUVs at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday, underscoring the segment's relentless growth, especially among luxury automakers.

Global SUV demand is growing three times as fast as the rest of the automobile market, Audi marketing executive Luca de Meo said at a press conference unveiling revamped examples of Audi's Q3 and Q7 SUVs.

Also Monday, Mercedes unveiled its GLE 63 Coupe, a high-performance crossover SUV, after a sneak preview Monday night at a downtown Detroit hotel.

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Porsche took the wraps off an updated version of the Cayenne Turbo S SUV, with increased horsepower, that will go on sale in April priced at $158,000. Porsche's Macan crossover, the downsized sibling of the Cayenne released last May, is already a runaway hit with a seven-month order backlog in the United States.

Finally, Bentley formally announced that it had named its forthcoming ultra-luxury SUV the Bentayga, to be introduced this year with sales beginning in 2016.

Luxury automakers are bullish on SUVs because they broaden market share — the Cayenne helped double Porsche's female buyers after it was introduced in 2004 — and because high-end sedans are losing their preeminence as the ultimate status vehicles, especially among younger buyers.

Last year, SUVs outsold sedans for the first time, a milestone the luxury SUV market crossed some time ago, according to Audi of America CEO Scott Keogh

The reason SUVs will continue to outpace sedans is twofold, Keogh told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview after Audi's press conference Monday.

"The engineering of these vehicles has dramatically changed — they drive, act, perform and behave much like a sedan," Keogh said. Younger buyers, he added, don't differentiate between an SUV and a luxury sedan.

"There's not this traditional association where, 'I gotta drive a classic sedan and for utility I drive an SUV.' This is merging. Younger buyers see these models as luxury cars. That, to me, is the biggest, biggest thing."

German automakers logged record sales in 2014, thanks in part to surging SUV sales.

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