Kubang! It's not Chinese, it's Italian. But Maserati is aiming its new luxury SUV Kubang concept vehicle at the growing China market in the hopes of eating some of Porsche's lunch.
While it's rare to see a Porsche Cayenne SUV on streets in the West, the model is an astoundingly common sight in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing. The driver is almost always a woman. China is Porsche's largest market in the world for the Cayenne SUV. And while sales of Porsche in China may be slowing due to a flattening of China's luxury car market, sales of the Cayenne specifically may slow because the marketplace is about to get a lot more crowded.
While the West is still nursing its SUV hangover, Chinese drivers are just entering the nation's SUV age. Brands, luxury and less luxurious, are lining up to cash in as mainland consumers begin delusionally rationalizing SUVs.
At the recent 2012 Beijing Auto Show, Maserati's Kubang was joined by SUV entries from both Bentley (the EXP9F) and Lamborghini (Urus). The goal of these entries is to pocket a piece of the massive cash pool for luxury SUVs now largely controlled by Porsche and BMW.
Kubang, which depending on who does the translating is Indonesian for "Mud Play" or "a wind over Java," may not be the model's final name. Maserati announced that the made-in-America production version will appear at the 2014 Detroit auto show, or, a lifetime away for the China market.
Another name in luxury many don't associate with SUVs that is joining the game in China is Lamborghini. The brand's Urus, which looks like an angry BMW X5 with its hair slicked back, will be available in 2015. It was no accident that the Lambo chose the Beijing Auto Show for the model's official debut.
In the meantime, Porsche will continue to deliver to its Cayenne to Chinese drivers; the automaker saw a 38 percent growth in sales in 2012's first quarter.
But China's SUV market is not just about luxury brands. Detroit, which may have thought its SUV age was behind it, is also aiming to sell the Chinese driver on the joys of SUV ownership.
Currently, SUVs account for about 10 percent of total auto sales in China. In 2006, SUVs accounted for less than half of that (about 4.5 percent). This growth has been driven by middle class Chinese also looking to SUVs. Buick and Chevy, with its Traverse model, are both angling to capture China SUV sales.
Meanwhile, Ford will be offering four new models in China in the next year, including the China version of the Escape, the Kuga. The automaker currently only has one SUV (the 2013 Ford Edge) available in China.
The growth of China's SUV market has all of the aspirational, self-justifying characteristic markers the US one had in the 1990s. Call it the "I need this" factor. Weibo user Cui Xitang recently "weiboed" a picture of a flooded road, noting that "此刻，SUV显得多么滳重要!" (Right now, an SUV seems to be really important!")
Last year, a woman named Zhao told Bloomberg of her Jeep SUV: “Driving it gives me a better view." Sound familiar? This year, a "37-year-old Beijing mother" told Bloomberg that her SUV is perfect because she has "to drive my kid around practically nonstop on Saturday." Soccer moms! They're everywhere.
In a market where most consumers only have one child, convincing them of a need for a spacious SUV is indeed marketing 牛.