SuperSuvs: Should & Will McLaren Join the Fray?

I’ve been hearing rumblings for a while now that McLaren is seriously considering launching an SUV.  How much of this is projection given the fact that basically every other sports and supercar manufacturer has now done so is hard to tell. The arrival of McLaren’s new CEO, Michael Leiters, who has a chronic case of SUVitis, having been deeply involved in the development of both the Porsche Cayenne and Ferrari Purosangue, is also feeding this fire.  I have consulted with a few medical professionals and all have advised that there is no known cure for SUVitis, it is at best a condition that can be managed.  With that in mind, the two questions that come to mind are:


  • Have SUV’s been the goose that laid the golden egg for those who have gone before?
  • If McLaren does launch an SUV what should its essence be?

The Golden Goose

Porsche created the “Sport” SUV segment with the launch of the Cayenne back in 2003.  The Cayenne both saved Porsche and transformed the company into a SUV manufacturer with a decent size sports car business on the side.  In 2022, Porsche delivered 182,328 SUVs and 58,613 Sports cars.  Without first the Cayenne and later the smaller Macan SUV, it’s unlikely we would have the 918, and last several series of GT2s, GT3s, and RSs.  Without a doubt, the Cayenne (and now Macan) is Porsche’s “Goose that lays the Golden Eggs”. Porsche’s SUV success has led to just about everyone else jumping into the SUV market.  Having now owned two Cayennes, a Turbo and a “S”.  They really are great, well built, highly reliable cars.  The Turbo is terrifc and something that big and heavy shouldn’t be able to take corners the way it does.  With the “S”, you get all of the Turbos gas guzzling capabilities without the performance.

A Goose & A Chicken

While the SUV has been a huge success for Porsche, it’s more of a mixed bag for VW’s Lamborghini & Bentley. When I looked at the numbers, the picture for the Lamboghini Urus & Bentley Bentayga, it isn’t exactly clear cut.  For Bentley, it mostly looks like they cannibalized sales from other models whereas Lamborghini’s SUV sales look to be almost entirely incremental.  One other fact, VW builds the Bentayga and Urus off of the same platform used for the Audi Q7 so the added development cost & complexity on the manufacturing side is fairly minimal.


A Goose

The Lamborghini numbers tell a bit of a different and much rosier story.  To give you an idea of the importance of Lamborghini in the VW Group, while even Seat and Skoda’s financial results are broken out, Lamborghini’s are just lumped in with Bentley’s. In 2016, the last year prior to the Lamborghini Urus SUV launch, VW Group sold 3,579 Lamborghinis.  In 2022, 9,233 Lamborghinis were sold.  Of the 9,233 Lambos, 5,367 were Urus’ which would indicate that the Urus has brough new buyers into the Lamborghini brand and the volume was clearly fully incremental. The added volume would certainly have been a welcomed by the dealer network and taken Lamborghini from a borderline brand to relevant and more supportable.  When looking at shorter term sales trends though, it seems that Urus sales have now flattened and will likely remain in the 5,000-5,500 units per annum range going forward.  Lamborghini now has a situation where 60% of their sales are SUVs and how this will change brand perception in the medium to long term is major question mark.  For VW, turning Lamborghini into a SUV brand is probably not a major concern as long as that moves more units.  Should VW decide to spin Lamborghini back off, it is a total different issue unless the new owner can execute a similar platform sharing arrangement similar to the Audi Q7, Bentayga, and Urus.


A Chicken

Bentley is an interesting case to look at as the Bentayga is considered a success.  In 2014, the last year pre the Bentley Bentayga SUV launch, VW sold 11,033 Bentleys. In 2022 VW sold 15,174 Bentleys of which 6,373 were Bentaygas.  That’s a 4.4% CAGR in terms of total units.  It is not exactly impressive and hardly a major success.  Net net, while total Bentley sales have grown, the vast majority of the Bentayga sales came from cannibalizing other Bentley models and this trend seems to have stabilized as the Bentayga’s CAGR from 2019-2022 is 6.8% which is nearly exactly in line with the 6.9% CAGR on total Bentley sales over the same period.  I did do a review on the Bentayga a few years back: 36 Hours with the Bentayga of which the most memorable comment on it came from Mrs. SSO who described it as driving around in a Channel handbag.

The Platypus

The Maserati Levante was launched in 2016.  That year Maserati sold 42k cars.  In 2021 (2022 results are not yet available) Maserati sold 24k cars.  Having driven an early Levante, the results are not surprising.  It felt like the Cayenne’s poor cousin and the interior came across as if it was assembled out of a Fiat parts bin.  The Levante certainly has not done much for Maserati.


The Messiah…..not really

The Aston Martin DBX SUV was supposed to be the car that saved Aston Martin.  Call it the second coming of the Cayenne, just this time with a British accent and a whiff of James Bond.  In its second year post launch, the DBX SUV, which was supposed to be AML’s savior, sales are down 16% through Q3 2022.  Its crystal clear at this point that the big bet on the DBX hasn’t worked.  Looking at the DBX sales in a bit more depth, in 2021 Aston Martin wholesaled 3,001 DBXs.  This is half of the original target of 6,000 units.  On February 1, 2022, Aston Martin announced a new more powerful version of the DBX, the DBX707 in an attempt to create renewed excitement around its floundering SUV.  The jury is still out on whether the DBX707 will turn around AML’s SUV fortunes.


Everything We Touch Turns to Gold

The Ferrari Purosangue SUV was officially launched in 2022 with shipments starting in 2023.  It is already sold out for the next several years.  The funny thing is Ferrari spent years denying they would ever launch an SUV.  The former CEO, Louis Camilleri, stated that he hated the word SUV and that it did not belong in the same sentence with Ferrari. Other Ferrari executives have stated that a SUV is not part of Ferrari’s DNA and that Enzo would roll over in his grave if it were to happen.  Yet here we are and the Purosangue is a huge success, even before the first car is delivered.


Ferrari has been quite clever in the design of the Purosangue.  It appears to be a two door while actually having four (the two rear doors are “suicide” doors that are rear hinged).  This also gives it a sleeker sportier appearance and it looks basically like a Ferrari GTC4 that’s been dabbling with steroids.  Also quite clever, Ferrari is capping production of the Purosangue at no more than 20% of total Ferrari production which puts it in the 2,000-3,000 range over the next half decade.  This effectively kills the risk of the Purosangue becoming the car that defines Ferrari the way the Urus has for Lamborghini.


McLaren & the SUV

Given McLaren’s new CEO’s history with both the Porsche Cayenne and Ferrari Purosangue, it is inevitable that the SUV discussion would be rumored to making the rounds of Woking’s hallways again.  McLaren Racing getting into Extreme E, which is an all-electric off-road series, was a not exactly subtle hint at ideas being played around with.  Assuming that a McLaren SUV is inevitable, question is what it should be and what can be learned from other manufacturers’ success and failures.  


Putting the Ferrari Purosangue aside because to be honest, given how strong the Ferrari brand is, you could put a Prancing Horse badge on the nose of a Dacia Sandero and it would sell out for the next three years. Also for Ferrari, this isnt about driving volumes, it just trading up the former GT 2+2 customers into a higher margin, more profitable new car.  If you look at the Bentayga and DBX, two SUVs that have had some moderate success but basically just cannibalized other models within the same brand, the outcome is not surprising.  In both cases the SUVs were designed to mimic the brands Grand Tourer experience just in a bigger, taller, platform.  Effectively they didn’t bring anything new to the table which would have attracted considerable numbers of new customers to the brand.  The Bentayga and DBX just give you the same Bentley or Aston Martin experience, just from an extra several inches off the ground.  The key to the Cayennes’ success, first of all Porsche effectively invented the Sport SUV, second, the Cayenne isn’t a 911 in SUV clothing, it’s a completely different car and doesn’t try to be a 911.  Hence it expanded the Porsche market considerable.  The same principles hold for the Lamborghini Urus.  Not much to learn from the Maserati Levante other than uninspired engineering and part bin raiding don’t normally lead to an inspired outcome.


Based on the above, if a McLaren SUV is going to be a success, it has to bring something new and different to the market.  The challenge in this is in doing so, it also has to stay honest to McLaren’s racing ethos.  If the McLaren MX Extreme E off road race car is the direction they are thinking of heading, then there is a good change they get it right.  If the approach taken is turning a McLaren GT into a SUV, it will not go about as well as the DBX has for Aston Martin.  In the same way you can take a McLaren 765LT to the track and run circles just about everything else out there, a McLaren SUV should be able to run the Dakar Rally or the Baja 500 with just minor modifications.  Probably the company I’ve seen that has done this best is Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus with the Boot (SCG Boot).  The Boot is also the only SUV I have ever had Mrs. SSO tell me that we should get one. 


In summary, while I am personally not a big fan of SuperSUVs, I have accepted that they are definitely here to stay.  Most sports and supercar companies have entered the market but only a few have gotten it right.  One of the few who hasn’t yet is McLaren but they probably will shortly.  I hope they learn from other’s mistakes and if they can stay turn to their racing heritage, they might just get it right.


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February 2023


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11 Thoughts on SuperSuvs: Should & Will McLaren Join the Fray?
    Robin Kanagasabay
    6 Feb 2023

    One way McLaren could steal a March on its competitors is with an all electric SUV (yes I know Lotus are doing that…)

    Remember they have started using axial (rather than radial) flux motors in the Artura. You could have fully independent torque vectoring four wheel drive and s really low centre of gravity with a skateboard style battery pack. McLaren are increasingly an electronics and data company and that’s what you need to be in the EV world.

    (But I expect it will actually have a hybrid drivetrain like the Artura.)

    Justin McKenna
    6 Feb 2023

    Interesting, I agree on Ferrari and Porsche, I actually quite like it because it looks like it is is more of a development of the FF/Lusso – I have to say though that the prospect of an SUV McLaren excites me about as much as my NEFF microwave, whose touch panel I hate with a passion and which also hates me. These are however, the least likely category of car that I would spend my own money on.

    John Coventry
    7 Feb 2023

    While I agree that the Urus, DBX and so on are in the mould of the Cayenne, I am inclined to put the Bentayga in the same camp as the Range Rover (and the Cullinan), where the emphasis is more on luxury than performance (albeit that the Bentayga has performance in abundance, but then that has always been a Bentley hallmark as far back as the days of WO). Bentayga is a clear winner in one category: worst name for any SUV!

    Steve Hewett
    7 Feb 2023

    McLaren are struggling with the Artura. How can they possibly do an SUV without a huge increase in funds for more employees and production facilities.

    My concern is that the SUV will drag resources from the Arturas successor.

    Mclaren make world beating cars

    Would l buy a Mclaren SUV, no, err well maybe depending on it’s looks l guess.

    7 Feb 2023

    Focussing only on this project and forgetting the current state of McLaren and the Artura project:
    Smaller and lighter than competitors, could do serious offroading but it really does need to do school dropoffs and road work as well. Purosangue concept direction is good, McLaren should go a bit smaller and lighter.
    But they should also limited the production. Sportscars is what they need to sell.

    7 Feb 2023

    There’s probably more aligned between big luxurious saloon car and big luxurious SUV than nibble sports car. That’s probably why the Bentley Bentayga cannibalised sales of those saloons. But as Steve Jobs said, better to do it yourself than let someone else do it for you. Or words to that effect (it’s in his book).

    The Porsche one was always a mystery to me and it’s as if they created a market for the Cayenne out of nowhere. A stoked up desire to drive a Porsche but they had kids! When the Cayenne came out, it was essentially the VW Touareg. It was even made by VW for Porsche! You can’t deny there was a demand for this and Porsche proved it.

    Aston Martin showed off a Lagonda concept in 2009, which would have been ahead of the Rolls and Bentley offerings, but it quickly went in to hiding. Certainly Dr Bez had the right idea, especially as those other marques mentioned look similar in places. A good idea, but hampered by Reichman, as so many of Aston’s designs are.

    The Ferrari lives in its own private area of stratosphere. Nothing can touch it. Yes, it seems like an enlarged GT4, and that I suspect is exactly what Ferrari customers are looking for. The person I knew who had a GT4 Lusso wanted it so that he could take his kids around, so there’s definitely a use case. The mistake people make with Ferrari is thinking they’re a sports car company, but look at their product list and it’s mainly GTs. Ferrari is a GT company.

    Urus I really can’t explain, but when you look at it, it couldn’t be anything other than a Lamborghini.

    And back to Aston with the DBX. The really frustrating one as they took the designer who’s designs weren’t selling enough and got him to design something that should have been flying out of their showrooms, and are now disappointed that his designs still don’t sell. The insanity of keeping trying and trying his designs hoping that he’ll stumble upon one that sells is beyond crazy. It’s banking on failure. Engineering is great, but design just doesn’t sell, just like his other designs don’t sell.

    So where does that leave McLaren? Where do they pitch their SUV?

    A luxury offering is so far removed from what they do it’s high risk and if they get it wrong, as Aston did, they may similarly struggle for sales. If they go for a sports SUV like the Urus it definitely taps in to what we believe of the McLaren brand in sport cars. If they partnered with someone as Maserati did they dilute the brand with junk; best avoided.

    They could go electric and that would certainly offer a technology USP. But is that what they should be doing now? I believe Porsche have to build three Taycans for every GT3 because of average emission targets for auto makers, but is there a lower overall production limit where they don’t need to?

    I think it’s clear that if McLaren are to do an SUV it has to be one to rival the Urus. Something you can take friends with you, or do the school run in, but is exciting when you want it to be without embarrassing itself.

    10 Feb 2023

    I think BMW may have something to say about Porsche creating the ‘sport’ SUV segment. Given the X5 was released two years earlier in 2001.

    12 Feb 2023

    Presumably for Bentley the choice was between cannibalising their own sales or having others eat their lunch.

    16 Feb 2023

    Are there chat groups here? pull me in


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