ANALYSIS: Will Audi control the mini-SUV segment?
The styling of future Audis will be previewed by this crossover concept at January's Detroit show
Audi says it will build an additional model, the Q1, from 2016. Glenn Brooks looks at its rivals' plans in what is set to become a new battleground: premium mini-SUVs.
A few days ago, Audi crossed the 1.5 million mark for vehicle deliveries in 2013, thereby attaining one of its own goals more than two years ahead of schedule. The next target? Two million deliveries in a calendar year, by 2020.
“In 2005, we set ourselves a very ambitious goal, and since then have sparked an unparalleled brand and model initiative,” said Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi. “We will continue to expand our product range from the current 49 to 60 models. We see a great deal of potential, particularly in the SUV segment,” he added.
Audi sold 769,900 cars in 2003 so by year-end, it will have doubled its sales in a decade. Impressive stuff, but made even more so when you think of the level of profit the company continues to deliver to its parent.
How will Audi reach the two million mark? Factory expansion being the obvious answer, you don't have to look too hard to see where all those additional vehicles will come from. Ingolstadt is losing the second generation of the Q5 to a new plant in Mexico but gaining the future Q1, the A3 Sedan and Q3 will be made in Brazil at Volkswagen's São José dos Pinhais plant in Curitiba, and FAW Volkswagen's new Foshan factory will soon start making A3s alongside the Mk VII Golfs it recently began churning out. Existing plants in Germany, Russia, Belgium, India, Hungary, Slovakia and Indonesia will also play a part in the brand's global manufacturing growth.
With Audi having specifically stated that SUVs will be a major factor in helping it hit its 2020 target, which models does that mean? Up to 150,000 units per annum of the next generation Q5 will be made at the forthcoming San José Chiapa plant in Mexico from 2016, while a new edition of the Q7 is due in 2015, reportedly to be followed by an additional model, the Q6, a challenger for the Range Rover Sport. Below the Q5 there is the obvious gap for a Q4 to take on the Evoque. The current Q3 isn't due for replacement until 2018, and we know there will be a Q1 coming in 2016, which leaves space for a Q2. The last of these is rumoured but details are sketchy - perhaps it would be a sportier version of the Q1.
Audi clearly sees a lot of potential for growth from compact and small SUVs and crossovers but what of its rivals' plans? Mercedes-Benz will commence European deliveries of the GLA-Class from March, this Rastatt-built SUV being the latest model to be spun off the MFA architecture. Infiniti's QX30 will also use MFA and be manufactured at Nissan's Sunderland plant from 2016. Both brands could really do with a model in the class below the GLA and QX30, or else see Audi dominate the A- and B- SUVs segments.
Lexus has its own new crossover coming soon: the production version of the NX is due to be revealed at the Geneva show in March. Rather than a compact model, this will be more of a rival for the Audi Q5. Toyota does seem to have been caught out by the recent surge in demand for small SUVs and crossovers - it really does need a locally made rival for the Juke, especially in Europe. Toyota Motor Europe's Urban Cruiser failed and so far we've seen no indications that a replacement might be on the horizon, let alone a potential related model for Lexus.
Honda should have a huge hit on its hands with the launch of the Vezel (CR-U in China and other markets), its most competitive B segment SUV of recent years. Sharing the same architecture as the new Fit, it goes on sale in Japan on 20 December, and roughly 90 percent of sales there are expected to be the hybrid model. US sales commence in the second half of 2014, to be followed by Europe in 2015. Would an Acura version of the Vezel work? In some countries yes, but it's a shame Honda is yet to make its luxury brand available in all of the world's major regions.
Acura, Infiniti, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. That leaves just one major rival, plus Volvo, Jeep, Land Rover and Lincoln. The last of these is soon to launch its first rival for the GLK-Class, X3 and Q5, the 2015 MKC. This SUV is based on the Ford Escape, and will be built alongside it at a plant in Kentucky. Ford is reportedly hoping to see 30,000 sales a year over a seven year lifecycle.
Volvo already has the V40 Cross Country as its own challenger for the Audi Q5 but production numbers are small. Happily, both XC30 and XC40 models are planned to take on the future Q4 and existing Q3. These should use a new platform, Geely-VCC CMA (Compact Modular Architecture), and be launched in 2016. Expect them to be built in Sweden or Belgium, as well as in China.
A small Jeep is far closer to production than a potential Land Rover rival for it. The 'Jeepster' will be built alongside its Fiat 500X twin at Fiat's Melfi plant in Italy from the second half of 2014, and sold in Europe, North America and Asia. As for the 'LR1', or project L851, this is said to be still in the planning stages, so don't expect a mini-Evoque or Discovery Sport (the name of the next Freelander/LR2) until at least 2017.
The one brand which could really take the fight to Audi's threatened domination of the compact and small SUV/crossover segments is of course BMW. The X3 is soon to be joined by the X4 which will be built at the firm's US plant from late in the first quarter of 2014. This one will be rear- and all-wheel drive and a sportier model than the X3.
Will there be an X2 model in the future? There could well be. In 2016, the new generation X1 will switch over to BMW Group's front- and all-wheel drive Untere Fahrzeugklasse (UKL1) architecture, as introduced by the recently unveiled Mini Hardtop and soon to be the basis of the 2 Series Active Tourer (F45). So in that context, yet another small BMW SUV seems highly likely.
Audi's attempt at control of the small and compact SUV classes might well succeed, but judging by the plans of its rivals, there will be battles ahead, and consumers are going to have even more choice than they do already.