Automakers like Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley and Rolls-Royce have been doing well as, regardless of whatever is happening in the wider world’s economy, the ranks of the ultra-wealthy grow and become richer. Lamborghini sold more than 10,000 vehicles last year for the first time ever and Ferrari had a more than 17% increase in revenue. But making money selling a relative handful of cars to a small group of people requires ever-increasing creativity.
Lamborghini sold 10,000 cars anually for the first time
Almost 75% of Bentley customers wanted their cars customized
Intricate wood inlays and crushed crystals in the paint are par for the course
As a result, extreme levels of personal customization have become the norm in this niche of the auto industry. Instead of just picking interior and exterior colors from a menu, each buyer can ensure his or her supercar or ultra-luxury SUV looks like no other anywhere on earth. In some cases, the wealthiest buyers can even have cars that are built in small – even single digit – numbers only for them.
Beyond the raw count, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley achieved record sales of individually customized cars that can cost, in some cases, double the already high base price of one of these vehicles.
“We are limited in terms of [market] size and in terms of [market] segments,” said Lamborghini chief executive Stephan Winkelmann in an interview with CNN. “So we have to get the most out of every single car.”
Ferrari’s earnings boom announced Thursday was thanks in part to the company’s vehicle personalization program. Ferrari announced revenues of $6.46 billion and profit of $1.36 billion in 2023. The company is expecting more growth in 2024 with its recently launched Purosangue SUV as it continues catering to the wealthiest car enthusiasts. The company’s stock reached a 52-week high Thursday morning at $380 a share. (Seven-time champion Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton joining Ferrari’s racing team may also have contributed to the price run.)
Carmakers like these sell to a thin sliver of the global population, those with at least $30 million in potential spending money. That’s around 400,000 people globally, according to Altrata, a company that studies wealth trends. By 2028, Altrata expects 528,000 of the world’s 8 billion people to be in that wealth category.
This is a market that’s growing in terms of population but these wealthy people are also getting even wealthier, said Javier Gonzalez Lastra, investment partner with Tema ETFs, which operates a luxury goods investment fund.
Global auto sales rose about 9% last year, according S&P. And the most expensive brands are, with some exceptions, growing, too. But, for brands like these, numbers that would be insignificant to a big automaker – like 10,000 Lamborghinis or 13,000 Ferraris – can mean cork-popping success.
With such small numbers of cars – and they don’t want to sell too many more or they won’t be “exclusive” anymore – these automakers are expanding the ways they can upsell features, options and extras to this wealthiest groups of buyers.
“Personalizations, customizations, have actually been the key driver behind the better than expected earnings throughout the year,” Gonzalez Lastra said.
He was speaking of Ferrari, specifically, which had strong earnings growth this year, but the same concept applies to other ultra-luxury automakers, as well. To grow revenues, they have to justify charging their wealthy clients more.
“The customer is rich, but he’s not stupid. You have to earn your price increase,” he said, “and to do that you have to bring something new, i.e. a new model, some innovation, something different, or you are customizing things for your client.”
Selling options certainly isn’t new in the auto industry. Even mainstream cars from brands like Volkswagen and Ford can be sold with lots of options, a trend that’s been increasing in recent years. But customers purchasing Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys have an even wider array of infinitely customizable paint colors and interior materials, to start with, than carmakers offer for less expensive brands. Automakers rarely disclose specific prices for these very personalized cars.
At the most extreme, carmakers will even create entire cars costing millions of dollars each for just a few customers.
But the sorts of customization available to customers of Lamborghini’s Ad Personum program, available on the brand’s supercar models, go beyond just picking from those long lists. Customers can request a “paint-to-sample” color, for instance, in which a car can be painted to match a fabric, leather or paint sample.
If the customer has a favorite shirt, for example, the car paint could be matched to the fabric color. But the ideas go way beyond a simple piece of clothing to be matched.
“You have what I call it ‘micro metallic’ and you can even go all the way to throw crushed Swarovski diamond dust into the paint,” Pietro Frigerio, a former Lamborghini executive who now runs a Lamborghini dealership in Newport Beach, California, said.
One reason the trend is increasing in popularity is simply because the technology has advanced, he added. New paints mean new possibilities.
So besides just colors, the paints can have myriad effects and subtle tones. Buyers can even mix different effects of the same color to present subtle patterns and designs.
At last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach event, Lamborghini unveiled a Revuelto supercar that looked like it had been driven through streams of fluorescent paint. The car, which was sold to a customer after the show, was created to show off the automaker’s custom paint capabilities.
Nearly three quarters of Bentley customers last year requested custom options that go beyond the brand’s already lengthy options list, an increase of 43% from the year before. These more extravagant choices can add around $75,000 to the price of a Bentley car, executives have said.
Of course, the more expensive the car, the more extravagant – and potentially expensive – the choices. Rolls-Royce has created a number of Phantom sedans that likely cost multiples of the car’s roughly $500,000 base price. These cars were made with features such as custom embroidery, intricate wood in-lays, etched glass and even hand-painted designs in their interiors.
Kellyn Dixon, manager of a Rolls-Royce dealership in Irvine, California, won an award two years ago for selling the most cars worldwide from the brand’s customization program, known as “Rolls-Royce Bespoke.” These are highly customized cars, so much so that Dixon sometimes takes her clients to Rolls Royce headquarters in Goodwood, UK, to meet directly with designers to pick to make their final selections of unique colors, trim pieces and even embroidery and etching.
At Dixon’s Rolls-Royce dealership three quarters of the roughly 90 cars sold each year include some degree of custom options, she said. That includes off-menu paint colors and specific objects sealed inside “The Gallery,” a glass case built into the dashboard of the Phantom, and intricate personalized engravings.
While she and Rolls-Royce’s design team can provide guidance, in the end, the choices have to be the customer’s.
“What is appealing to you may not be appealing to me,” she said, “And at the end of the day, it’s your car. You’re going to take delivery. But there have been some very specific, unique builds that, you know, we pray a little bit when the car gets built that the client loves it as much as they loved the rendering.”
Bugatti sells cars starting at $3 million, so you might think just having one of these cars would be distinctive enough. But some customers still want something more. For one customer last year, Bugatti created a gold-painted Chiron on which the brand’s designers hand-drew historical scenes with classic Bugattis. In response to another request, Bugatti designers created contrasting striped paint jobs – one car in blue, one in orange – for a husband and wife.
This degree of customization is possible, in part, because these cars are largely hand-made, anyway. Even without lots of customization, it can take months between the time someone orders a Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce and when they actually get the car.
Still, said Lamborghini’s Winkelmann, an automaker has to balance production considerations to some degree.
“It takes longer for sure,” he said, “therefore, it’s important that we have a balance between the complexity and, at the same time, the opportunity to deliver this to our customers. It’s a continuous discussion, internally, of where we invest in having more opportunities for our customers to buy an individualized car.”
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