TORONTO — Ultraluxury vehicles will surmount the technological changes that are upending the way customers shop for and drive vehicles, say industry executives.
“For us, the experience of the car is important. It’s a matter of enjoying the driving, the emotion of it,” said Alessandro Farmeschi, chief operating officer of the Americas region at Automobili Lamborghini.
“As soon as you switch the engine on and you hear [it], you have goose bumps. If [customers] want to be driven for a commute, they buy other products.
“When they buy Lamborghini, they buy a lifestyle.”
Farmeschi echoed the sentiments of Bentley and Rolls-Royce, who predicted that the luxury segment will survive such revolutionary trends as online shopping and self-driving cars.
Their customers, they argued, don’t purchase vehicles simply to get from point A to point B. Instead, they buy them for an experience, from enjoying lavish interiors and powerful engines to working with sales staff with whom they have established relationships.
“We are selling more than a product,” said Martin Fritsches, RollsRoyce vice-president of sales in the Americas region. “Customers want to be part of a club, having a special location, a unique, personalized customized relationship with a salesman or general manager. If you think the traditional sales process might change, there will always be some changes. But in the case of Rolls-Royce specifically, it won’t happen, at least not in the next [several] years.”
Rolls-Royce, he added, is spending millions of dollars on 14 stores either under construction or undergoing major renovations in North America. The Canadian luxury market has expanded in recent years as a growing economy and low interest rates sparked new sales.
Despite higher interest rates this year, most ultra- luxury brand sales rose during the first 11 months of 2018. Rolls-Royce sales, for example, gained an estimated 13 per cent to 99 units compared with the previous year, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit. Lamborghini sales were up an estimated 2.6 per cent to 198 vehicles, while Bentley sales rose an estimated 8.5 per cent to 192 vehicles.
But, like most major automakers, parent companies of ultraluxury brands are investing significant resources into autonomous-vehicle research and development as well as electrification.
Bentley plans to launch an electric four-door coupe, while Rolls-Royce plans to introduce EVs over time. The goal is to be 100 per cent electric by 2040.
“We’re looking at autonomous and electrification, but one can still not ignore there will be people that clamour for the W12 or the V8,” said Mark Del Rosso, CEO of Bentley Americas, who becomes Audi of America president Dec. 1. Christophe Georges will take over at Bentley, beginning his second time at the post.
Meanwhile, perhaps the most drastic change to ultraluxury brands’ showrooms is not the addition of battery-powered vehicles but utility vehicles large and small. Bentley introduced its Bentayga utility vehicle in 2015, Lamborghini began production of its Urus this year and Rolls-Royce unveiled the large Cullinan in Vancouver in May. The shopping process for those new utilities and their car counterparts, however, remains largely the same, with dealers playing an integral role in both selling vehicles to current customers and recruiting new buyers.
Paul Cummings, dealer principal at Grand Touring Automobiles in Toronto, said emerging technologies or changing consumer tastes are not having much of an impact on his store’s bottom line. Grand Touring sells Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce vehicles under one roof near downtown.
“I don’t think it changes our business too much,” he said. “If I was running a body shop, I might be a little nervous since cars are going to avoid [crashes] themselves. But overall, I think it’s just another technology we can offer in a car, no different than Bluetooth, no different than a stereo system, no different than cupholders.”