Crossovers – Are They Going too Far?
By James Wong
The ink has just about dried on the paper – Audi will build an A5 Sportback, and BMW will start selling the 5-Series Gran Turismo very soon. In this very puzzling world, we now witness the hybridization of virtually every form of conventional car design. While we used to be content with a four-door saloon, or a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), or a coupe, consumers are now taking up coupe SUVs (X6, anyone?) and four-door coupes. We simply aren’t satisfied with convention anymore, and in times like this where bolder is probably better, car manufacturers are going all out to capitalise on capturing a market that is hungry for something new.
The rather obvious push in this direction can partly be attributed to increasing profits. These unique models, with their one-of-a-kind looks, command a premium over the cars they are based on. Cars like the Mercedes CLS, for instance, is based on the E-Class platform but sells for a lot more. The MSRP of the CLS550 is USD70,700, while the E550 has a MSRP of USD56,300. By utilising the same platform to create a totally different car, Mercedes is achieving economies of scale and reducing overall costs per car. And, even better still, Mercedes is making more money per CLS than it is making for every E-Class – hence the lucrative business here is made plain to see. Similarly, BMW has done the same for the X5 and X6. The X6 uses identical chassis, drivetrains and engines as the X5, save for a naturally-aspirated petrol inline-6 that would probably not fit favourably in the X6’s image of being a more upmarket car. Notice too that the CLS only has the petrol CLS350 as the base engine, while in some Asian countries the E-Class can even be had in the E200 guise. So, in conclusion, these niche models are potent money-makers, and intentions to make them are usually profit-driven.
The lesser established theory is that the tastes of the consumer is changing. While this is not immediately obvious, more affluent consumers would be looking for something more than the run-of-the-mill model which is accessible to a wider set of potential buyers. In short, people with the money would want something more special, something his neighbour next door will not be driving too. This is where these ‘hybrid’ vehicles come in – being special yet still retaining the core fundamentals of the standard car. Perhaps people who buy these vehicles also treasure style over practicality, because examples like the CLS can seat only 4 passengers (as opposed to the E’s 5) and have more awkward interior spaces to cater for the radical exterior design.
I’m fine with these crossovers. They have a purpose and they find their place in the market. What really irks me though, is how sometimes you can go overboard with creating crossovers. Take the A5 Sportback for example. Audi claims it has “the emotion and elegance of a coupe, the comfort of a sedan and the practicality of a station wagon.” This three-in-one package is a bold claim indeed, and when you try to do too many things at one time you tend to compromise. I personally feel the A5 Sportback neither has the elegance of a coupe, nor the comfort of a sedan. It actually looks rather awkward and the sloping rear roof would definitely affect the headroom of the rear passengers. If you ask me, if you chose the A5 Sportback then you probably can’t make up your mind between a perfectly eye-catching A4 or a stunning coupe like the A5. I would have preferred that Audi made a four-door coupe instead of something like the Sportback, which would have made more sense. You have to give Audi credit, though, for the enormous boot space that the Sportback possesses. But please, less complication for me and I’ll be happy. Having more choice is always a good thing but also makes for more decision-making. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am just content with choosing between A or B, and not A, B, C or D. It just seems Audi is doing this as a commercial exercise and nothing else.
The 5-Series GT is another example. It claims that the “attributes of an elegant sedan, a contemporary Sports Activity Vehicle and a classic Gran Turismo are masterfully melded into a single, harmonious vehicle concept.” Perhaps this car is the most awkward of it all – it looks like a Beluga whale from the rear, doesn’t look like a sedan nor a SUV, but perhaps does it job quite competently – it claims to have the legroom of a 7-Series thanks to a 120.7-inch wheelbase. So, passengers will be pampered like in a 7-Series – but why not get a 7-Series in the first place? Forgive me, but the more I read about the concept of a 5-Series GT the more ridiculous it sounds to me. It’ll be interesting to see how sales of the 5-Series GT will pan out, as it could very well be answering a question that nobody asked.
Crossovers used to be beautiful vehicles, combining perfectly two body styles that creates a unique design that is refreshing. Now I don’t know. I’m seeing a more primitive form of evolution in car design – that of mutation.
But, I’m willing to accept that I may be the one out of step here as I can’t help but notice that these vehicles that are already out are putting up good sales numbers, considering we’re in a down market. Is it the brand? Or, are the vehicles so wonderful that buyers are willing to excuse the looks? Or, do the buyers love the looks, and the brand, and, the performance?
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