5 luxury car brands that have made the switch to commuter vehicles

Everyone dreams of owning an expensive car. But building high-end, exclusive vehicles isn’t always a path to profit. Just ask for Lamborghini, Maserati or, even sometimes in its history, Porsche.

Too expensive. Not practical. Difficult to drive. These are the factors that have traditionally limited the sales of luxury car brands. The solution has always been to use the equity of its desirable badge to sell cars the average person can afford – or, in the case of some supercar makers, vehicles that are simply easier to drive.

At times, this strategy has been an effective way to get more customers to experience a brand while increasing sales. For some luxury automakers, moving to more accessible vehicles is simply their way of surviving and reinventing themselves for a new generation.

For others – those brands founded for nothing more than a passion and love of driving – it’s hard to see their expansion into the mainstream automotive market as little more than a cash grab. Here’s a look at five premium brands that have made the move into commuter vehicles.

Porsche

Perhaps no brand has changed its focus like Porsche. A brand that exclusively made two-door sports cars for enthusiasts less than two decades ago is now ubiquitous in the world of sedans and commuter SUVs.

However, you can’t call his Cayenne, Macan or even Panamera just a rebadge job. Even though modern Porsches have a lot in common with their Audi and Volkswagen counterparts, anything that wears its iconic badge still manages to resemble its premium offerings, even its new line of electric vehicles.

When the Cayenne first hit the scene in 2003, its success was anything but guaranteed. However, Porsche soon discovered SUVs were its new meal ticket, as sales easily outpaced the Boxster – the brand’s previous attempt to create an accessible product.

In 2021, the brand best known for making the classic 911 sports car sold far more luxury SUVs than any of its other models. Nearly two out of three Porsches sold that year were either a Macan or a Cayenne. The most authentic sports car Porsche still makes, the 718, accounted for about one in every 20 cars sold.

The whole situation seems to be a win-win. Anyone who buys a Porsche SUV will always feel like they’re living the Porsche experience. And because Porsche can sell five times as many SUVs as 911s, it means the automaker can fund more specialized sports cars for true enthusiasts.

Lamborghini

You’d be forgiven for thinking that almost all modern Lamborghinis are just wide Audis. What was once a symbol of rebellion and bravery in films like “The Cannonball Run”, the Lamborghini badge now represents capitalism.

In Lamborghini’s defense, the brand was never really profitable until the Volkswagen group took over the reins of the company in the early 2000s and Audi engineers tackled all noise, vibration and hardships that the drivers of his sports cars had to face.

The result was the Gallardo, which would be Lamborghini’s best-selling car. The effort combined Lamborghini’s flamboyance with Audi’s sensibility and the result was a money-making success – for the first time in the marque’s history.

The downside of the Gallardo, because it was no harder to drive than an Audi A6, was that it opened Lamborghini up to the non-enthusiasts – who no longer needed to suffer from heavy clutches, d ‘poor visibility and transmission problems for the thrill of the ride. The Gallardo effectively turned Lamborghini into a fashion statement.

The brand’s latest, the Urus SUV, is basically an Audi Q7. It’s about as normal as a vehicle can get and borrows many components from several brands under the Volkswagen umbrella, including Porsche. There’s nothing particularly spunky, unique, cool or Lamborghini about the Urus aside from its exterior styling. It sounds more like something Ford or GM would create.

maserati

Maserati has the misfortune to be the Italian sports car brand you think of second only to Ferrari, Lamborghini and maybe even Alfa Romeo. While enthusiasts are more familiar with the company’s supercars or GTs, Maserati has been trying for several decades to build more commuter-friendly sedans.

The first Maserati Quattroporte hit the scene in 1963. And while there were notable production shortfalls (largely due to Maserati’s frequent change of ownership), the version of the Quattroporte we know today today happened in 2003.

Although it may have depreciated like a stone, by 2005 the new Quattroporte had nearly doubled Maserati’s sales in the United States. When the smaller Ghibli version was introduced, sales in America tripled in 2014. Since then, the brand has continued to see sales increase with the introduction of the Levante SUV and the upcoming Grecale compact SUV expected to continue this trend.

Maserati currently only produces one two-door sports car, the MC20.

Ferrari

It’s hard to imagine anything that could make Ferrari feel less special. Even when the brand ventures into everyday life, as with its California or Roma models, the cars still have an air of prestige and exclusivity. But there’s nothing pretentious about a Ferrari. It’s not pretending to be anything. Every Ferrari, good or bad, is declarative, particular and determined.

However, Ferrari has just released its very first SUV, the Purosangue, and it feels less special because it’s hard to imagine the company making an SUV for any reason other than because it has to. You can imagine company founder Enzo Ferrari rolling over in his grave at the thought of putting the Ferrari badge on a compact SUV just to sell more cars and make money.

Cadillac

Many American car enthusiasts of a certain age will have an anecdote that ends with the phrase “That’s when a Cadillac was a Cadillac.” It sounds cliche, but there is some truth to the comment. Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when Cadillac had a strong brand identity, but in 1967, for example, an entry-level Cadillac Coupe deVille was about 20 percent more expensive than a base Corvette.

To buy something like a high-end Cadillac Fleetwood, you were spending a level of Rolls Royce money – you could buy two Shelby GT500 Mustangs for the price of just one Fleetwood in 1975.

While Cadillac was an almost unobtainable status symbol for decades, the brand has failed to appeal to Gen Xers in any significant way and still struggles to stay competitive and relevant to younger buyers.

The introduction of the Escalade around 2000 helped Cadillac reclaim some of its premium image, and in 2003 Cadillac introduced the CTS, a true sports sedan intended to compete with German and Japanese imports. Since then, the Cadillac line has expanded to include the CT4.

Chris D’Alessandro is a Toronto writer who grew up in a family of used car dealers and mechanics.

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