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Seeing Ghosts: Australia's Rolls-Royce importer has a queue of 34 buyers for the new Ghost.

Premium car buyers bounce back with a vengeance – and will be spoiled for choice

General News logo12 Jul 2010

THEY say there’s no better economic barometer than sales of luxury cars and right now buyers of premium vehicles – especially at the very top-end of the market – are taking their chequebooks and marching back into glass-walled car showrooms in earnest.

Rolls-Royce last week announced production at its Goodwood factory was running at record levels, with an unprecedented 15 cars a day emerging from the English plant that built more than 300 Rollers last month alone.

RR said record demand continues for both the million-dollar Phantom – the first new model to emerge under BMW control since January 2003 – and its smaller sibling, the Ghost, the first two examples of which were delivered in Australia in June.

Globally, both models are now sold out until September (the Phantom until October), following a fourfold sales increase last month and a staggering 200 per cent sales surge during the first half of this year, driven mainly by demand in the Asia Pacific region, including China.

Rolls-Royce sales have been correspondingly strong in Australia, where seven cars have been snapped up in the first half of this year – up 16.7 per cent on the first six months of 2009.

The Australian Rolls-Royce importer is holding no fewer than 34 Ghost orders and expects to deliver 22 vehicles in the next six months. It says the average spend on options for the Ghost, on top of its drive-away price of $645,000, is between $60,000 and $90,000.

80 center imageFrom top: Bentley Mulsanne, Maserati GranCabrio and Ferrari 458 Italia.

Fellow British super-luxury brand Bentley is also in big demand, having sold virtually all examples of the upcoming new Mulsanne flagship ($695,000) it was allocated for this year, as well as nine of the cracking new Supersports Convertible, which will top the Continental range here in October at $531,716.

Bentley’s Australian sales are up a huge 39 per cent so far this year, with four cars sold last month for a 2010 total of no fewer than 25 cars.

Not all the mega-luxury brands are soaring, however. Daimler’s Maybach brand attracted just one buyer during all of last year – two fewer than in 2008 – reflecting a global sales slump that has led to speculation the Mercedes-Benz stablemate was under threat of extinction.

Just 119 Maybachs were sold in the US last year – less than half the number sold there in the brand’s halcyon year of 2004 (244), but rumour has it Daimler remains committed to its answer to Rolls-Royce and is planning at least three all-new models, including two smaller sedans and a super-SUV based on the GL-class.

Aston Martin, which has experienced a 24.4 per cent Australian sales surge in 2010 with 56 cars sold including eight last month, is understood to be in talks with Daimler to also use the GL as the basis of a new uber-off-roader to rekindle its Lagonda brand.

And they’re not the only luxury brands developing all-new models.

Maserati, which sold 15 cars here in June and 74 in the first six months of the year (up 15.6 per cent), has sold most of its 2010 allocation of this month’s new GranCabrio ($338,000) and is planning an all-new four-seat sportscar to position below next year’s redesigned Quattroporte.

Ferrari had found more than 120 Australian customers for its brand-new 458 Italia super-coupe before the first example arrived here last month, pushing the waiting list for the $526,950 firecracker out to more than a year.

Ferrari’s Australian sales are up 17.9 per cent in 2010, with 46 sold, and the Prancing Horse brand has revealed it is also plotting six new models by 2013 – not including next year’s knife-edged 599 GTO, which has already found about a dozen Aussie homes despite its expected $700,000-plus pricetag.

The other Italian supercar-maker, Lamborghini, has sold 24 cars here in 2010 (up a big 71.4 per cent on 2009 numbers) and continues to roll out ever more radical versions of its baby Gallardo and big-daddy Murcielago coupe, perhaps to be joined by the House of the Raging Bull’s first four-door.

And then there are the plethora of exotic new supercars that continue to sate the seemingly voracious appetites of both cashed-up buyers and product planners hungry for ever-fatter profit margins.

Just to name a few, they include the 431km/h Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, McLaren’s 2011 MP4-12C, the locally built Joss JD1 also due next year, New Zealand’s Hulme CanAm, and fresh offerings from supercar stalwarts Spyker, Koenigsegg and Pagani.

Of the mainstream luxury players, not counting product-starved Alfa Romeo, all but BMW and Porsche – both of which this month launch new or upgraded versions of their volume-selling SUVs – have surged this year.

Industry analysts remain cautious about the Australian market’s ability to maintain its record first-half growth throughout 2010 despite a full-scale return of private buyers in recent months, pointing to the as yet unknown impact of recent and future interest rate hikes and the cessation of positive fallout from last year’s federal government tax break for small business.

However, compared with the mid point of 2009, when the effect of the global financial crisis on the local motor industry was at its greatest, luxury vehicle sales show no signs of abating so far this year.

Mercedes-Benz, which has received more than 52 local orders for its $464,000 SLS AMG Gullwing coupe even before it arrives in August, is 16.7 per cent up on its 2009 sales performance and recorded its best June in the brand’s 52-year history here.

Allegedly, the global success of the SLS has convinced Daimler to develop a smaller mid-engined super-coupe, dubbed the SLM.

Audi’s rise has been well documented, and the Volkswagen luxury arm is up 28.8 per cent on its stellar sales year in 2009. There is no sign of an end to Audi’s niche model mania either, with a further 15 new models planned between now and 2015 – not including this year’s circa-$400,000 R8 V10 Spyder and next year’s A1 micro.

Lexus’ first front-drive (hybrid) hatchback won’t arrive in Australia until next year but its sales are already up 20.2 per cent and the Toyota premium division’s first supercar, the limited-run LFA, has been a sell-out success globally.

Jaguar sales are up 21.5 per cent this year here, despite the absence of the all-new XJ flagship, which launches this month with prices starting at $193,800, and the Indian-owned British brand is on the verge of revealing a new compact sportscar dubbed the XE.

Porsche is similarly close to confirming production of the 918 Spyder plug-in supercar as a belated replacement for the million-dollar Carrera GT – just one in a range of new models planned to drive sales to 150,000 per annum under Volkswagen ownership – but so far this year the Stuttgart sportscar-maker is 5.8 per cent down.

While Alfa is down a worrying 12 per cent, BMW – up 9.5 per cent – has fared better but still trails the overall industry’s improvement in 2010.

That won’t stop it continuing its relentless release of new and additional models, including a redesigned and expanded 6 Series range and new 1 Series and X3 models in 2011, and a family of zero-emissions ‘Megacity’ EVs from 2013.

If the global luxury car craze ever does eventually end, it won’t be for lack of product.

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