THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO BE A MILLIONAIRE PETROLHEAD. HEAD BACK A COUPLE OF DECADES AND CHOICE AT THE VERY TOP OF THE CAR MARKET WAS PRETTY MUCH LIMITED TO TWO DUOPOLIES.
If you wanted supercar thrills then it was a coin toss between Ferrari and Lamborghini; if you needed a pluto-barge to whisk you to the stock exchange it would wear either a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce badge. Other challengers came and went and some managed to exist around the fringes. But choice was limited and volumes were tiny; before the DB7 was launched Aston’s annual sales never broke into four figures, and sometimes struggled to reach three.
But if you’re in the lucky position to have north of $500,000 burning a large hole in your pocket, the world is your bivalve mollusc. The global population of so-called High and Ultra High Net Worth Individuals has increased dramatically, and so have the number of ways for them to spend their cash. Bentley has broken the 10,000 annual sales barrier, Ferrari sold 8000 cars last year, Aston managed 5000 and Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and McLaren – the last of which didn’t exist as an auto maker a decade ago – all moved more than 3000 units. Limited runs and specials from Premier Cru brands routinely sell out before they are officially announced or even seen. No wonder that other players now want to get a piece of the action.
As the bigger luxury brands have become the top-drawer equivalent of volume players, so some companies have demonstrated the logic of staying small. Koenigsegg has made fewer than 300 cars throughout two decades of production, while Pagani only builds around 50 a year. Both know their customer base exceptionally well and enjoy lots of repeat business. More importantly, both are profi table.
Brabham Automotive marks the return of a very famous name, and the prospect of Australian production of the forthcoming BT62 hypercar, which promises 522kW and enough downforce to give it the theoretical capability to operate upside down. But although it looks like a road car, the fledgling company admits it has been designed with the requirements of production-based GT racing in mind. The run of 70 are going to be sold for track use only, and with a very serious $1.8m pricetag. Despite the racing pedigree of the Brabham name, that’s a huge ask for a car that buyers won’t be able to drive home in.
Yet the forthcoming Pininfarina PF0 makes the Brabham look like a safe bet. The famous Italian carozzeria’s first own-label model is going to be an EV that shares its underpinnings with the Rimac C_Two, but which looks likely to be sold with a premium over its Croatian sister; the company is suggesting a price of around $3.3m. Pininfarina is being coy about exact production targets, but has dropped some hints that it hopes to make around 90 of them. Despite the lustre of Pininfarina’s famous name – the brand now owned by India’s Mahindra – finding customers for so many cars is going to be a serious challenge. As Jolyon Nash, McLaren’s sales and marketing director said recently, “I’ve never had a customer ask me for an electric car. Ever.”
The established players have all fought hard to get where they are. The start-ups seem to be betting on what is still a rising market, and picking up customers who haven’t managed to get into limited editions from the better-known brands, but even a flood tide is going to struggle to lift some of these shiny new vessels.