I recently watched this video of something called the Karlmann King, which is a giant SUV that’s going to cost zillions of dollars. The video shows the Karlmann King driving around Dubai, shuffling beautiful people down the road as they own the world in their cool SUV.
And, I admit, to an SUV enthusiast, the Karlmann King is kind of a cool SUV. It’s got a nice look, it seems very capable and it appears to be a place you could survive nuclear war. Car enthusiasts will call it ugly and overkill, but the target market will like it, and that’s the only thing that really matters. The Karlmann King is aspirational.
And, indeed, it isn’t the only aspirational new SUV coming from a startup automaker. Several years ago, a company called Dartz came out with an SUV prototype that cost over $1 million and features interior diamonds and similar ultra-tough styling. There’s also the Marauder, an SUV made by a company called Paramount, which was famously featured on Top Gear running over stuff. And it doesn’t stop there: There’s the Rezvani Tank, the Knight XV and all sorts of other ultra SUVs popping up, possibly as one-off models, possibly as actual production vehicles.
This, in itself, is kind of interesting — but, to me, the more interesting thing is this: it used to be supercars. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, we had all sorts of "startup" brands trying to make it big in the world by creating a supercar — and anyone who lived through the 1990s can name a few (or more). Isdera, Gumpert, Vector, Saleen, Cizeta, Noble … the list goes on and on. Except, it has kind of stopped: The days of these ultra-limited supercars seem to be over, and instead the new "startup" brands seem to be focusing on SUVs.
Which, of course, got me thinking: is this yet another sign of the times? Are we going to be in a situation soon where high-end brands focus more on SUVs than sports cars? If the startups are doing it, they clearly see a market — and will the supercar brands follow? Is the Urus a preview of a Lamborghini that will someday abandon the car market altogether?
It’s hard to know, of course — and right now it seems impossible. But I find it interesting that all these small-time ultra-high-end brands that once did supercars are moving on to SUVs — surely more proof that the SUV is the vehicle of choice for the future.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.