Luxury car brands rolled out new crossovers and SUVs at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, hoping to capitalize on America’s shift to larger vehicles.
Many consumers have ditched family sedans in favor of SUVs, pickup trucks and vans. This year, light trucks account for 59% of all new-vehicles sales in the U.S. through October, a four-point gain in the category’s market share versus 2015. Demand for SUVs has come at the expense of smaller cars. Total industry sales in the U.S. are down 0.2%, driven by a 9% decline in passenger cars, according to Autodata.
The trend has encouraged luxury brands like Alfa Romeo and Jaguar, neither of which previously sold SUVs, to expand their lineups.
In Los Angeles, Jaguar grabbed headlines with a concept car that appears destined to compete directly with Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model X. The Jaguar I-Pace is an all-electric crossover that will go on sale in 2018. Jaguar says the I-Pace can go 220 miles on one full charge. Using electric motors in the front and rear, the I-Pace packs 400 horsepower and travels from 0 to 60 mph in roughly 4 seconds.
Ian Callum, Jaguar’s design director, said the production version will closely resemble the concept that Jaguar brought to the Los Angeles show.
“There are hybrid cars and everything else, but we decided to leap into the pure electric car,” Callum told the FOX Business Network’s Jeff Flock. “We have a lot of respect for our friends at Tesla. We’ll have to go and see how this turns out, but let’s say it’s going to be very competitive.”
Since launching the F-Pace earlier this year, Jaguar has watched its first-ever SUV become the brand’s best-seller in short order. Jaguar sold 1,240 units of the F-Pace in October, equal to 39% of total monthly sales.
The I-Pace will be Jaguar’s first electric offering. Jaguar Land Rover, a subsidiary of India’s Tata Motors (NYSE:TTM), said half of its entire vehicle portfolio will have an electric option by the end of this decade.
Alfa Romeo revealed its own head-turning SUV, the Stelvio. The small crossover features Alfa Romeo’s recognizable triangular grille and Italian styling. The 2018 Stelvio—named after a mountain pass in the Alps that’s known for its 48 hairpin turns—will have 280 horsepower under the hood. The high-performance Stelvio Quadrifoglio jumps to 505 horsepower.
Alfa Romeo said the Stelvio will be manufactured in Italy and is expected to arrive in showrooms by early 2017.
“American drivers are still getting to know the Alfa Romeo brand and the introduction of the Stelvio is the best way to gain exposure to consumers in the bustling premium utility segment,” said Eric Lyman, chief analyst and vice president of industry insights at TrueCar (NASDAQ:TRUE).
The Stelvio’s debut follows the reveal of sister brand Maserati’s first SUV, the Levante, at the New York International Auto Show in March. Parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) is investing heavily in new Alfa Romeo and Maserati models.
Alfa Romeo and Jaguar were mum on pricing. The compact Jaguar F-Pace starts at about $42,000, while the Maserati Levante will be on the higher end of the price spectrum with a starting rate of $72,000.
Fiat Chrysler also introduced the U.S. version of the all-new Jeep Compass, which will replace both the Patriot and the old Compass in Jeep’s lineup. The brand has been one of the top beneficiaries of consumers’ shift to SUVs, and Jeep expects the Compass to keep the momentum going when it goes on sale in March.
The 2017 Land Rover Discovery is making its public debut after the British SUV brand revealed its LR4 replacement last week. The seven-seat utility will have a price tag of $50,000 and up. Land Rover plans to launch the Discovery in mid-2017.