The luxury limousine could be on borrowed time.
After a century of transporting the world's wealthy in style and space, the premise of a sizeable sedan dripping with luxury is fast being swamped by more functional SUVs that also happen to be cheaper.
The latest to be revealed is the BMW X7, a car that could conceivably see the end of BMW's 7-Series limousine – in Australia, at least.
A new contender
The X7 SUV shares its premium philosophy and much of its luxury equipment with the car that has sat at the top of the BMW lineup for more than 40 years.
Yet it'll be tens of thousand of dollars more affordable, a familiar theme in the modern SUV era.
Whereas the list price of a 7-Series starts at $195,900 (discounts mean most pay plenty less than that) the X7 is expected to start below $150,000 when it arrives in 2019.
Seven of the best
Despite the on-paper appeal of the X7, BMW Australia's general manager of corporate communications, Lenore Fletcher, doesn't expect a rush for the door.
"Granted, there may be some overlap, but we do see the two purchase groups as distinct," she says. "The 7-Series customer is looking for a premium luxury experience, while we see the X7 owner as more action oriented, with a desire to go off the beaten track, but still with an entire array of technical innovations at their fingertips, and again, in premium luxury."
She says the 7-Series will still play a vital role at the top of the BMW lineup in Australia.
Some of the biggest buyers of limousines in Australia – hire car operators – are also switching to SUVs.
BMW says almost one in three 7-Series is to a limousine operator. From Audi Q7s to Lexus RXs, the shift to SUVs that offer space and luxury is gaining pace.
BMW admits the X7 could find favour with some.
"Given the X7's premium luxury interior and flexible seating layout, there has already been interest from limousine operators," says BMW Australia's Lenore Fletcher.
The office manager for Prestige Chauffeurs, Puneet Sood, says it's a trend unlikely to slow.
"People do prefer the SUV because of its size and shape," he says. "When they want to travel somewhere elegantly they will often choose an SUV; it looks nice, better than a sedan."
More and more
Sales of limos have been sliding for a decade, despite a boom in the popularity of luxury cars.
It's easy to see why. Scour the streets of Sydney and Melbourne and you're increasingly seeing SUVs stepping in for sedans when it comes to paid transport. Lexus, Audi and Range Rover all create SUVs that have proven popular with hire car operators.
Families, too, gravitate towards SUVs that typically swallow more luggage and do a better job of carrying bulky items, be it skis, scooters, surfboards or bikes.
The fact they're uber fashionable right now doesn't hurt, either.
Load 'em up
SUVs also offer more luggage space because you can load bags to the roof.
Plus, rear headroom tends to be better, courtesy of rooflines that don't taper until much further back in the vehicle.
Throw in a four-wheel drive system for better traction on slippery surfaces – and the promise of light duty off-road ability – and it's easy to see why SUVs are increasingly popular at the top end of the luxury market.
Since 1970 Range Rover has been catering to the luxury SUV set.
But since the late 1990s other luxury brands have jumped on board, taking advantage of increasing demand for wagons that double as super luxury machines.
The trend continues elsewhere in the premium market.
SUVs now make up 43 percent of the market.
For sports car maker Porsche, its two SUVs – the Macan and Cayenne – are the two top sellers, making up almost three-quarters of sales.
Maserati's first SUV, the Levante, also comfortably outpunches the sports cars and executive expresses that have long defined the brand, accounting for more than half the marque's sales.
Even Bentley has found the Bentayga is more popular than the Coupe that helped revive the brand in the 2000s, accounting for half of sales in 2018.
Rolls-Royce will be the next to jump on the luxury bandwagon with the Cullinan, the most expensive SUV on the market.
The Cullinan's $685,000 price tag undercuts the Phantom sedan it shares so much with by $170,000. Considering the Cullinan uses the same architecture and engine but picks up extras such as all-wheel drive it shows the pricing anomaly with many limousines.
Shorty Ferrari is set to get on board the SUV train. Despite years of denials, it seems the temptation of boosting sales (remember, Ferrari is a publicly listed company these days and shareholders love making money) was too great. Naturally, Ferrari likes to think the upcoming model will be a bit different, the late boss Sergio Marchionne referring to it as an FUV, or Ferrari utility vehicle.
Dollars and sense
SUVs also tend to be more appealing than limousines on the used-car market, too, something that typically leads to better resale values.
According to Glass's Guide, Audi's just released A8 is forecast to retain just 47 percent of its value after three years, shedding more than $100,000 in three years.
Yet the Q7 that is much cheaper to get into in the first place is forecast to hold 63 percent of its value.
It's a similar story with limousines from German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz.