What made last year’s record-breaking sales results at Bentley, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Maserati even more impressive is that they came despite headwinds such as the Russian market’s major slump and anti-corruption campaigns in China aimed at reducing the consumption of luxury goods.
In Russia, Bentley’s Duerheimer said that the automaker experienced a sales surge late in the year as wealthy customers raced to turn their rapidly weakening rubles into hard assets.
Although it didn’t break a record, Ferrari had its second-best sales year ever in 2014 after abandoning a self-imposed volume ceiling. Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s new owners approved an investment plan aimed at providing new momentum to James Bond’s preferred automaker.
All of the brands are getting a lift from the rebounding U.S. economy, which is forecast to account for about one-third of the segment’s 2015 global sales of 62,027 this year, according to IHS Automotive data. By 2018, U.S. sales in the segment are expected to rise another 34 percent to 26,426 vehicles compared with this year. At that point global demand for ultraluxury cars is forecast to exceed 86,000 (see table, above).
When ultraluxury brand CEOs are asked about rivalries within the segment they will say that their vehicles are seldom cross shopped against another model. “Our competition is a chalet in the Swiss Alps, a beautiful piece of art, or a watch,” Mueller-Oetvoes said.
While the cheapest Rolls-Royce starts at 275,000 euros an entry-level Bentley is about 100,000 euros cheaper, which has left the company in an enviable position: “No one sells as many cars that cost more than 150,000 euros than we do,” Bentley’s Duerheimer said. Bentley delivered a record 11,020 cars last year and plans to reach 20,000 units by 2020 as it beats ultraluxury rivals such as Maserati, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce to market with its first SUV, the Bentayga.
At Lamborghini, production is not growing as fast as demand. The Aventador has a seven-month waiting time and two-thirds of the Huracans ordered last year still need to be delivered, Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann said.
While most ultraluxury brands have been chasing new sales records, Ferrari in 2013 decided to cap its volume at 7,000 supercars a year to preserve exclusivity and profitability. That strategy was altered last year following an abrupt change in management. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who served as Ferrari chairman for almost a quarter of a century, was ousted last September and replaced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne a month later.
Montezemolo believed in the self-imposed cap. Marchionne does not, therefore 2014 deliveries grew by 4 percent to 7,255 units. Ferrari’s best sales year to date was in 2012 when it sold 7,318 supercars. Marchionne is determined to exceed that total as he steers Ferrari toward annual sales of 10,000 units by the end of the decade. The growth plans are even more ambitious at FCA’s other ultraluxury brand, Maserati, which more than doubled deliveries to a record 36,448 vehicles last year. The automaker’s previous high was 15,393 vehicles sold in 2013. In May, Marchionne boosted Maserati’s 2018 target to 75,000 units.
Despite the ambitious plans, Ferrari and Maserati sales this year will be “basically stable,” Marchionne said. The reason Ferrari is expected to be flat is that it will replace its best-selling 458 Italia with the 488 GTB. Maserati has no all-new arrival this year as it gears up to launch the Levante -- its first SUV -- in 2016.
Aston Martin is in the midst of a sweeping makeover. The UK supercar maker’s main financial backer, Investindustrial S.p.A., has pledged to provide cash for a refreshed model lineup that Aston Martin will reveal this month at the Geneva auto show. Investindustrial Chairman Andrea Bonomi, whose private equity firm bought a 37.5 percent stake in the automaker in 2012, told Bloomberg in January that Aston Martin “has the potential to build 7,000 to 8,000 units a year.” IHS estimates Aston may double annual sales to more than 6,000 units in 2018 from about 3,400 last year.
Douglas A. Bolduc, Nick Gibbs, Bloomberg and Reuters contributed