Ultraluxury auto sales rise along with wealthy households

ultraluxury auto sales rise along with wealthy households

The U.S. light-vehicle market, hobbled by parts shortages and other production bottlenecks, has stalled in what is normally a robust spring selling season.

But the exotic and ultraluxury market is rolling on and revving up.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley are coming off record sales in 2021 and on pace for more gains in 2022.

Those two companies — along with Tesla, BMW, Mini and Genesis — were the only brands to post higher U.S. sales in the first quarter.

Alan Haig, president of Haig Partners, a dealership buy-sell advisory firm, said combined U.S. sales at seven exotic and ultraluxury brands — Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin — jumped 5 percent from 2018 to 2021.

“The market is far less volatile and more lucrative today because of the rise in affluent households,” Haig said. “And the manufacturers are responding with new product and higher prices.”

Steady gains in real estate values and on Wall Street in recent years have further padded household wealth.

Affluent households had more time and fewer opportunities to splurge on travel and dining out during the pandemic.

Spending increased on goods of all types, including ultraluxury SUVs and cars.

In 2021, 30 percent of light vehicles sold were priced at $50,000 or more, up from just 6 percent in 2012, according to Cox Automotive data.

Mike Ward, owner and operator of eight luxury- and exotic-brand stores in Denver and Scottsdale, Ariz., said more-affluent households now aspire to own an ultraluxury vehicle rather than just a BMW or an Infiniti.

“The Lexus SUV may be their everyday car, but they still want the new, extra luxury,” Ward said of his customers.

Mike Ward Automotive was awarded a new Rolls-Royce franchise in Denver. The dealership opened in August 2021. After three Rolls-Royce vehicles were sold last year, his 2022 allocation from Rolls-Royce — 25 vehicles — is already spoken for.

A wave of new exotic and ultraluxury SUVs is also behind the sales momentum.

While the chip shortage and other supply chain bottlenecks have upended new-vehicle output globally, automakers have prioritized profitable pickups, crossovers and SUVs.

Volkswagen Group, which controls Bentley, and BMW Group, which owns Rolls-Royce, have ensured production lines for the ultraluxury brands have continued to hum.

Robert DiStanislao, president of RDS Automotive Group — with Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, McLaren, Lamborghini, Koenigsegg and Lotus stores in Philadelphia; Greenwich, Conn.; and Newport Beach, Calif. — said 2021 was a record year for sales and profits at the group.

DiStanislao said the wait for select models at his dealerships varies from 10 months for a Porsche to 22 months for a Lamborghini Urus and three years for a Ferrari.

Describing his typical customer as wildly successful, he said even the rise in gasoline prices this year has had “zero impact” on demand or sales.

“At the core of our business right now is an old axiom,” said DiStanislao. “If you tell Americans they can’t have something, they have to have it.”


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