Data Dive

Do SUVs kill brands?

by John Wiley
1 April 2022 3 min read
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It has taken almost 20 years to get here, but the shift in the enthusiast vehicle landscape is nearly complete. Way back in 2003, when Porsche introduced the Cayenne, many enthusiasts were aghast. How could a sports car maker build an SUV? Now, two of the longest-standing holdouts of the SUV market are about to introduce their own version; Ferrari will soon launch the Purosangue, and Lotus the Eletre. Certainly, they will sell and will pad quarterly earnings. But at what cost to the brand’s image? The automotive landscape is littered with marques that undermined their distinctiveness and market position one shortsighted sales success at a time. As the Greek general Pyrrhus is thought to have said, “Another front-drive Grand Am, and we are done.”

One way to measure a brand’s health in relation to its SUVs is to see if the trucks appeal to True Believers. Since one of the highest expressions of brand loyalty is to collect its defining cars, Hagerty data can be helpful here.

One of the requirements of insuring an enthusiast vehicle with Hagerty is that you must have a daily driver to get around. We typically note what that vehicle is on the policy. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of SUVs, and most of them are the same ones that are popular with the public at large. Think: Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Chevrolet Tahoe. It’s also unsurprising that many of the owners of these SUVs show loyalty to the same brands when it comes to their classics: Nearly half of Tahoe owners collect Chevrolets, and more than a third of Explorer drivers collect Fords. This speaks to the overwhelming popularity of these brands but also the fact that, for the Big Three, trucks are part of their brands’ DNA.

Luxury SUVs are a different story. Among those listed as daily drivers on Hagerty policies, only the Cayenne lands frequently with brand loyalists. More than a quarter of the collector vehicles insured with Hagerty by Cayenne drivers are other Porsches.

For other luxury brands, the ties between daily driver SUVs and classics in the garage is more tenuous. For instance, BMW ranks as only the third most popular collector car brand for those who list an X5 as their daily driver. That's the same amount of loyalty Mercedes-Benz G-class and Jaguar F-pace owners show to their respective marques. Beyond those three, SUVs seem to have little or no connection to what people collect.

Audi Q7 owners appear to be the least brand loyal, with Audi ranking 15th on their list of marques owned and comprising just 1 percent of their vehicles. However, that disloyalty may also result from the relative newness of collectible Audis.

Even when SUVs don't reflect a collectors brand taste, they often do correlate to some collecting patterns. Cadillac Escalade owners may not be hugely biased toward old Cadillacs, but they certainly tilt toward American iron. Range Rover owners are the only SUVs drivers for whom old Jaguars are in the top ten. Cayenne owners love older Porsches, but so do Tesla Model X drivers. BMWs of the late 1980s are popular with almost all the SUV drivers, as are newer Ferraris.

What about the growing niche of exotic SUVs? We do occasionally see them listed as daily drivers, including 2 Rolls-Royce Cullinans and 12 Lamborghini Uruses. Yet since these SUVs are often themselves precious and—dare we say it—collectible, they also pop up on Hagerty policies as part of larger collections. Sometimes, they correlate to collections curated around their marque. Collections that include an F-Pace, for instance, tend to be very heavy on Jaguars. Other times, there's little fealty: Aston Martin DBXs don't fall into Aston-focused collections (yet).

A big takeaway here is just how successful the Cayenne has been. The SUV transformed Porsche into a profitable high-volume automaker and, twenty years on, seems to have thoroughly won over Porschephiles. Yet we also see that winning combination isn’t guaranteed. Other SUVs in that category have brought in new customers but haven’t resonated as strongly with the brand faithful. Keeping the lights on in the factory is important, but the long-term reputational risk is real.

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Comments

  • Donna Brandt says:

    From my experience with my friends in PCA, those that tow a Porsche have a Cayenne- those that don’t go for the Macan – the Macan S is my daily driver and it’s almost as much fun to drive as my 911s. So glad I picked the Macan as my daily driver!

  • JIM KERMODE says:

    It is a great question, but I think it may need to be answered in a different way. Current data reflects owners whose loyalties are based largely on the reputations the Sporting Brands built prior to being SUV companies. It’s somewhat natural they’d want all things “Brand X”, like a current Porsche / Lamborghini collector having a tractor. The question is whether their children, now or recently, riding to school in the backs of these Sporting Brand SUVs will continue to see the Brands as Sporting or see the Brand in a less appealing light.

  • Ray Ashenhurst says:

    I am one of the Porsche brand loyalists, having paired my 1963 356B Cabriolet with a Cayenne S daily driver. I often ask myself why. The Cayenne is not reliable and it is very expensive to maintain. I don’t care about luxury. I hate the technology and would be very happy with roll up windows. I keep on arriving at one reason. I am a senior citizen and live in New England. I have been driving through 64 winters since I got my license in Wisconsin. The Cayenne’s snow ability and road manners makes me feel confident.

  • Jim Rosenthal says:

    I would be interested to see more details on the collections of Toyota daily drivers. One of my collector cars is a Toyota- a diesel-powered Series 80, which is a bit of a unicorn. My daily is a Tacoma. Although I love my collector cars, the satisfaction of owning a vehicle which is well-made and reliable is also significant.

  • OldFordMan says:

    When you try to be everything to everybody you end up disappointed!

  • Steve Clinton says:

    I got a headache trying to absorb the content of this post.

  • Mark L Bedel says:

    Mmm, it sounds like the brand loyalty aspect of owning an SUV, is almost like saying, “If I have to drive one of these things, at least I have other fun things that I can drive from the same brand.” Almost sounds like a defeated motorist making an excuse?

  • J.K. Bleimaier says:

    Ask anyone over 50 to characterize the Porsche marque and the answer is, “legendary sports car constructor.” Ask anyone under 20 and the answer is, “SUV builder.” In the final analysis Porsche has squandered its enviable heritage & cache. For future generations it is just another manufacturer of upper-middle-class conveyances.

  • MustangJim says:

    Interesting…this shows that continually enthusiasts are the best brand ambassadors. I don’t think that the loyalty started with SUV’s but continues. I’ll bet that perhaps 10 -15 years ago the Ford collector had a Taurus, GM..some gm station wagon or sedan and etc… I think also that a performance oriented marque coming out with an SUV only helps the marque, as long as it is a good one. As a Mustang enthusiast and owner ( yes, my daily is an Explorer, and in the past it was Fusions, Taurii, etc…) . I’ll add that as much as I complained about the Mach E being called a Mustang, I don’t think that Mustang as a brand is sacrificed at all.

    • Jim says:

      That Mustang Mach E is an SUV, with 4 doors, and a station wagon tailgate. And you have to plug it in every night so you can drive it to work. Heck, My Pontiac G6 is more of a Mustang than that SUV.

  • RedRyderSFZ says:

    Perhaps the answer to the question in the title is not found in the confusing number of policies sold and/or attempts at the correlation of them and brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is a moot point because Ferrari and Lotus sports cars already exist; unless you extrapolate backwards from sports car to SUV: ie. Ford GT-Expedition. Also, comparing American iron collection and correlating exotic SUV/sports car ownership within the same brand is quite a stretch as shown by the numbers.

    Let us ask these questions and base the answer on sales of vehicles versus insurance policies:

    Has the production of Porsche and Lambo SUVs caused people to buy less Porsche and Lambo sports cars?

    I’m guessing sales of the respective brands sports cars has been largely unchanged because of the SUVs they produce.

    And last but not least….Are people still going to buy Ferrari and Lotus sports cars because they now sell SUVs?

    Yes, they will. I don’t see the SUV turning prospective buyers away from Ferraris or Lotuses(Loti?)…and obviously the executives on mahogany row don’t either.

  • Mike Eastman says:

    Walking into a store and notice a black Jaguar SUV this afternoon. Both my wife and I said at the same time. I’d much rather have an XK 120 or E type. Just sayin’.

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