It’s an interesting question that deserves to be debated in marketing classes. Which one is more important: to improve a company’s profitability or to stay true to its brand heritage? It’s a corporate quandary that I’m sure countless companies have argued over — something that is quite common in the automotive industry.
I discuss this because Aston Martin has just previewed its very first SUV, called the DBX. The British luxury automaker says it has already tested the prototype in real-world conditions, and that the vehicle is expected to be officially unveiled at the end of 2019. Imagine that… a sport-utility vehicle from the same car company that gave us James Bond’s elegant automobiles — one that built its reputation upon the likes of the DB5, the DBS, the Vantage, the Vanquish and the One-77.
I could picture the agonizing deliberations during the company’s board meetings.
Are we really doing this?
Are we seriously attaching our winged logo on a tall, rugged vehicle?
Are we now defiling our brand just to get a share of the luxury SUV market?
Well, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati and Rolls-Royce had all surely struggled with the same questions when they were trying to decide whether to push through with the release of the X5 (1999), the Cayenne (2002), the Q7 (2006), the Bentayga (2015), the F-Pace (2016), the Levante (2016) and the Cullinan (2018) — and their answer was ultimately yes. To a degree, Mercedes-Benz and Lamborghini had also wrestled with the same existential dilemma before they launched the M-Class (1997) and the Urus (2018), but not as much as the others since both brands had already produced SUVs in the past (the popular G-Wagen for the former and the little-known LM002 for the latter).
It’s clear then: When push comes to shove, the brand will always take a back seat to the bottom line. Because really, there will be no brand to manage — no brand to polish — if the firm goes belly up.
This trend of suddenly designing and assembling sport-utility vehicles among manufacturers of high-end luxury passenger cars was obviously spurred by the need of said automakers to make money (and lots of it). Some of these brands had to initially endure some backlash from their purist fans and customers, but the motoring world eventually came to accept their SUV offerings. Most of these premium sport-utes have now even become bread-and-butter bestsellers for their makers, highlighting the modern-day car buyer’s penchant for versatile, go-anywhere vehicles.
It remains to be seen whether Ferrari — the last SUV holdout among the traditional high-end car companies — would give in to the crossover craze later on. I bet the iconic Italian marque is still trying to preserve its supercar image, but it’s not like it hasn’t strayed far from its time-tested brand guidelines before. Remember, Ferrari launched its first-ever four-wheel-drive vehicle in the FF in 2011, and then followed that up with the GTC4 Lusso in 2016. It goes to show that even the hallowed boardroom of Maranello is prepared to adjust and tweak the product line just to adapt to the changing times.