Small luxury SUV battleground heats up

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The launch of the Mercedes-Benz GLA in April this year and the arrival of the Lexus NX at the end of last month is changing the small luxury crossover segment from a rather predictable two-horse race into one of the most closely fought corners of the market.

It’s classified as the SUV Small over $40k segment, and with just five competitors it is one of the smallest in terms of the number of competitors therein. Based on October sales figures it will also become one of the most hard-fought.

The competitors are the traditional market leader, the (soon-to-be-updated) Audi Q3, plus its long-time (in the context of the blossoming segment) rival the BMW X1. The GLA and NX round out the leading luxury quartet, while the Mini Countryman makes up the numbers.

All of these models have an important role to play for their respective brands, as they are ostensibly pitched as ‘conquest’ cars that grab sales from mainstream brands, priced as they are to pinch sales from larger high-end ‘mainstream’ SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5 Akera.


Of course, it is debatable whether the NX belongs in this company, as it really competes in terms of size and price (it starts at $55k plus on-roads, while the others kick off between $43k and $48k) better with the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.

But Lexus pitches it as a segment-straddler and so do the industry sales figures VFACTS, so for the sake of argument we’ll soldier on.

One glance at the October sales charts tells you the three Germans and Lexus are poised for a heck of an arm wrestle.

The month saw the crowning of a new champion, the GLA, with 200 sales coming as one part of Mercedes-Benz Australia’s absolute corker of an October, where it finished ahead of Honda, Kia and Jeep overall.


The new GLA45 AMG will provide additional momentum, if Australia gets even half-way adequate supply.

Second was the reigning annual leader, the Q3, on 175 sales (up 10.8 per cent), just one unit ahead of the NX on 174. Given the Lexus launched late in the month, these figures represent the first batch of registrations for what will become dealer demonstrators and test cars.

But don’t be surprised in the NX stays there or thereabouts for a while, as the company held more than 400 pre-orders.

Finishing in fourth was the X1 with 145 sales. It is worth noting that while the segment tally grew 72.5 per cent for the month over October 2014, the introduction of the Mercedes and Lexus meant the BMW’s sales actually fell 33.8 per cent under the same metric. It appears the Bavarian brand was, last month at least, the biggest victim of these new contenders.


Rounding out the segment was the Mini Countryman, with 34 sales representing a decline of 24.4 per cent (though not enough to undo annual growth, now listed as 7.4 per cent).

We should point out that, given Mini is a BMW subsidiary, you could say that the combined X1 and Countryman tally beat out the Audi and Lexus.

Annually, the segment is up 17.7 per cent, though the GLA’s incremental tally of 895 units and 206 NX sales (a few were registered in September) have eaten into the Audi and BMW figures, which YTD are down 7.0 per cent an 10.1 per cent apiece. The duopoly is dead.