Twenty years ago, if you were rich and had need of an SUV you bought a Range Rover or a Lexus LX. If you were looking for a fast sedan you bought a BMW and if you wanted a luxurious one you bought a Mercedes.
If you needed to haul children or pets or both around, you bought a Chrysler van or a Ford station wagon. Today, though, if you’re rich and need an SUV you can call Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Rolls-Royce, and soon you’ll even be able to call Ferrari.
Today you have to hunt for a BMW with a manual transmission and your base model Mercedes CLA-Class can be ordered with fake carbon fiber on the mirrors and front and rear bumpers. Today Ford only sells trucks, SUVs, and the Mustang (which as we all know is also now sold as an electric SUV).
Somehow, though, BMW M models from 20 years ago are shooting up in value and Ferraris with manual transmissions can sell for more than double than identical cars with identical mileage that have the F1 gearbox. So what the hell is going on?
To make it short – consolidation. Not in a business sense, but in a utility sense. 20 years ago, the businessperson on the go had to carry a mobile telephone, a planner, car keys, business cards, and credit cards.
Today all those things are contained within a single smartphone that also has standard and scientific calculators, email and instant messaging services, and all the other things we’ve become accustomed to. Combine that mentality of making one thing to serve all purposes with journalists that insisted on taking everything short of a Maybach to the track for performance testing, and the path that has led us to Ferrari preparing an SUV and Rolls-Royce producing special models with carbon fiber and more horsepower.
I certainly can’t fault Aston or Bentley or Ferrari or Lamborghini for building SUVs – the three that have launched already have all sold very well and helped keep these iconic brands alive. Those who can be faulted and are also responsible for Ford discontinuing sedans and hatchbacks and for M-Cars that are boring to drive and for Mercedes that have rough rides, are the reviewers and consumers - specifically those that began believing and demanding every car should serve every purpose.
When a vehicle must be designed to all these differing demands while still being affordable to the average person, the only possible solution is the pillar of mediocrity on which sit the pathetic crossover and hideous coupe-SUV. Yes, they’ll do everything, but they won’t do any of it all that well and they certainly won’t look good doing it.
What those vehicles are missing, and what those older BMWs and manual transmission Ferraris had, is and was specialization. Those cars were built for a purpose – being fast and fun to drive.
Similarly, off-roaders from the 80s and 90s have been going up in value because they were built for the sole purpose of being rugged and going anywhere, and as a result were excellent at it. Rather ironically, these individuals that demand these jack of all trades vehicles have again to specialize them, which has led us to M and AMG and Hellcat powered SUVs that are absolutely useless off-road and only barely passable in the corners because of their size.
With all that said, it would seem that I have a hatred of SUVs, but the truth is I don’t. I was quite impressed by the Aston Martin DBX and variants of the Range Rover. What saddens me as a car and indeed a driving enthusiast is that the idea that a vehicle should serve every purpose is killing off so many good and interesting vehicles.
Even sadder than that – I don’t think we’ll ever again see a market quite as interesting and varied as we once did.