Luxury SUVs and crossovers stole the show at the industry's annual gathering in New York, with high-end brands like Lincoln and Maserati showing off new models.
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Lincoln arguably made the biggest splash when the New York International Auto Show opened Wednesday. Actor and Lincoln spokesman Matthew McConaughey was on hand as the Ford (F) luxury brand introduced a concept version of the next Navigator, its large SUV that competes in the same segment as General Motor’s (GM) Cadillac Escalade. The Navigator wowed the crowd with advanced features like gullwing doors that swing up and a set of three steps that automatically drop from both sides of the vehicle. It’s safe to say passengers would arrive to parties in style.
Some of the Navigator’s design elements—including the gullwing doors—won’t be seen on the production version, which goes on sale sometime in 2017. But the future Navigator is likely to be a significant upgrade over the current model. Lincoln last invested in a complete overhaul of the Navigator a decade ago.
Maserati, one of Fiat Chrysler’s (FCAU) premium Italian brands, brought its first-ever SUV amid a broader effort to jumpstart sales in the U.S. The Levante, which made its initial appearance at the Geneva auto show last month, is a super-luxury crossover with Italian leather and silk lining the interior.
Buyers will have a choice of Ferrari-born, twin-turbo V6 engines that pack up to 424 horsepower. If Maserati’s presentation on Wednesday is any indication, the Levante will sound like a sports car. The company is calling the final product “the Maserati of SUVs,” a nod to the Levante’s sporty Italian style.
At a starting price of around $72,000, the Levante won’t come cheap. Maserati is aiming high, looking to pit the Levante against other high-end models like the Porsche Cayenne.
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The Levante will enter a booming market for crossovers when it arrives in the U.S. this fall. Compact SUVs and crossovers overtook midsize sedans as the most popular vehicle segment in 2015, taking a 14% share of all U.S. sales. Utilities are poised to continue growing this year, and automakers are racing to satisfy consumer demand. Through the first two months of 2016, SUVs and pickup trucks combined have grown 9.8%, according to Autodata.
In the luxury space, models unveiled at the New York Auto Show will join other recent entrants like the Jaguar F-Pace and Lamborghini’s SUV, which is expected to arrive in two years.
With demand high, brands have moved quickly to update their SUVs in between top-to-bottom redesigns. The Acura MDX, the Honda (HMC) unit’s best-selling vehicle for seven years running, underwent big design changes. Acura also announced a new hybrid version that will go on sale by the end of 2016. The standard gas-powered MDX is due to arrive late this summer.
Honda recently detailed plans to increase production capacity at its Ohio plant in hopes of shipping more MDX and RDX models.
Jeep is also doubling down on pricier SUVs, unveiling two new variants of the Grand Cherokee in New York. Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand, said the Summit and rugged Trailhawk models make the Grand Cherokee “more capable and more luxurious.”
The New York Auto Show opens to the public on Friday.