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Geneva show: Cars for the super-rich
At the Geneva auto show, carmakers show wares for those who need no rebates.
March 4, 2004: 10:21 AM EST
GENEVA (Reuters) - As carmakers scrap for buyers at the bottom end of a tough market, ultra-luxury players are confident they can woo big spenders with ever-more glamorous envy machines and the ultra-personal touch.
The Geneva auto show was bristling with Lamborghini 12 cylinder engines and burled hardwood trims on cars like the Maybach limousine, tempting the hearts of people who don't need to count zeros.
Maserati MC12 Stradale
And if the rich are only getting richer, automakers are betting that those still making fortunes will want to flaunt it on the road.
Maserati presented its new 600,000 ($732,000) MC12 Stradale sports car two weeks ago and has already filled the 25 places strong order book. Down the road, Lamborghini expects to grow sales almost 40 percent this year, boosted by its new Murcielago roadster, due to retail at around 220,000 ($267,714), plus tax.
"Our customers are mainly CEOs and people who want to make a statement. That's a niche where you can still sell very well," said Bernd Hoffmann, Lamborghini's head of sales and marketing.
Sleek new cars have shot Lamborghini sales higher over the last three years, just as a slowdown in the world economy, war and disease dragged the more accessible end of the luxury sector into what the head of Gucci called "a perfect storm."
"The slowdown hit the fleet and lease end of the luxury car market because businesses needed to cut costs but the niche market is growing much faster than the economy," said Bert Kreber, head of Cadillac Europe.
Executives said sales were picking up especially among the likes of private bankers in Switzerland whose pockets are feeling fuller as stock markets and the economy pick up.
"There is a whole new set of people with disposable income who'll say 'I want a sports car and I want it next weekend.' They're ready to just go out and see what is available," said Clive Dopson, manufacturing director at Lotus.
London's Times newspaper recently reported that the city's premier Aston Martin dealership has seen a pickup in business, with five of the cars, priced at more than 100,000 pounds, sold to City of London bankers in two weeks.
Keep the cache
One of the difficulties these ultra-luxury makers face is is keeping production at low-enough levels that the cars keep their cache, but selling enough to make them profitable.
There is growing interest in the Maybach, made by Mercedes, which allows clients to choose every element from the colour of the car to the trims, but the company has capped production at 1,000 a year, half of which are sold in the United States.
That's not surprising, as the U.S. market is rapidly moving upscale.
Cadillac owner General Motors estimates that luxury cars now account for 12 percent of the U.S. market, up from 10 percent last year and Porsche hopes to double its U.S. sales in the next couple of years, fuelled by its new Cayenne model.
"People are snapping up luxury cars and with 800 orders for the Maserati Quattroporte, the market is there for the taking," said Maurizio Parlato, head of Ferrari North America, who forecast 25-30 percent U.S. sales growth this year. *
But the luxury appeal is not confined to six-figure cars.
Throughout the market, companies are seeking to give buyers that bit more cachet for their money in a bid to steal market share from mass models.
The new Mazda 3, which purports to draw on the family bloodlines of the racy Mazda RX8, went straight for the jugular with an advertising campaign that asked "Why golf when you can still have sex?," playing on a German phrase with an obvious dig at Volkswagen's mainstay Golf model. *