Analysis: How supercars beat the recession
Right now, the supercar grandees clustered around Bologna and Modena in northern Italy are in economy mode. Not the cars themselves, you understand, but in the way that their makers are running their businesses.
Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati recorded record sales figures in 2008: 6587 for Ferrari, 2430 for Lamborghini and 8759 for Maserati. But all three have reported a drop in orders this year. For Maserati it’s serious – down 48 percent – and Lamborghini is down 37 percent, but Ferrari reports only a 10 percent drop in the first quarter of 2009.
Lamborghini and Maserati have both stopped their assembly lines for some weeks since the beginning of the year. The idea is that, for cars of this type, there should always be one less car than there are eager customers.
Yet when most of the world’s biggest car companies are reporting a loss, these makers of 200mph exotica expect to make a profit this year. The surpluses may be small – Maserati CEO Harald Wester prefers to express it by saying, “Maserati will not lose money in 2009” – but they will be achieved without cutting future model programs.
Ferrari is probably the only car company in the Western world that expects to make and sell virtually as many cars as it did last year. CEO Amedeo Felisa explains why, when the likes of Aston Martin and Bentley have been losing business.
“Others either don’t have the range of models we offer or their products are getting old,” he said. “For sure, the recent introduction of the California has helped us, bringing new customers and a different kind of buyer.
“But we are not, as some people have alleged, keeping production up to absorb waiting lists and we don’t have cars stocked around the dealer network. Right now, demand in the U.S. may be down but China is going up.”
The California is more than a timely introduction; it could point to the future of Ferrari road cars. It hedges bets against cars like the F430 and 599 being condemned as too ostentatious in a post-credit crunch world.
“The California is for those who might have thought that a Ferrari was too risky and asked too much of the driver,” said Felisa. “They are not interested in absolute ultimate performance but still want to drive a car that gives that special feeling.
“In future, Ferrari will have two lines. The pure sports cars will be represented by 430 and 599, and the GT models by the California and the successor to the 612. We decided to be in two segments because today we cannot predict how the market will evolve.”
Although the Porsche Panamera and Aston Martin Rapide suggest a further widening of the supercar sector, Ferrari is not considering a four-door, or other models that might stray into Maserati territory. Felisa said, “All Ferraris have more than 450hp and a price of at least $200,000.”
Ferrari will also continue with its eye-wateringly expensive special series. There will be a “collectors” car’ to follow the Enzo, defined by experience with the track-only FXX. The 599XX is the new experimental car; just 20-30 will be made, for wealthy enthusiasts who want to be a more intimate part of the Ferrari family.
Extravagant, exclusive models are seriously profitable. Lamborghini realized that when it produced the Reventon – an edition of 20 cars sold at a million Euro ($1.4m) each – but Sant’Agata does not see its future in such cars. “I think our current price level is the right one,” CEO Stephan Winkelmann said.
Having shelved the four-door Estoque, Lamborghini will continue to focus on mid-engined two-seaters in two sizes, with no softer GTs. Its policy is to offer a new variant of one or both models every year – “Our customers like to have the latest toy on the block,” said Winkelmann – and to maintain its reputation for cars that are extreme. Winkelmann added, “The fact is, we will always be the bad boys.”
The next bad boy will be the Murciélago replacement. Winkelmann is confident that 500hp-plus V12 supercars will resist social, financial and environmental pressures and that the market will grow again when the economy improves.
Ferrari’s Felisa agrees. “I am positive about the future,” he said. “Our low volume is why we are not so affected by the crisis. If we were selling 15,000 cars a year, the situation would be dramatically different. We are planning to stay at around 6000-6500. We are in a safe condition.”