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Luxury carmakers power past the pandemic

The world of million-dollar motoring is moving along nicely, despite the economic fallout from Covid-19.

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The McLaren can accelerate to 200km/h in a ballistic 7.2 seconds (above); the Ghost Extended's longer body means it has 170mm of extra room; Ferrari's Portofino M has a new gearbox and a revised engine that produces 620 horsepower, 20 more than before.

BT_20200925_MCLAREN_4256837.jpg
The McLaren can accelerate to 200km/h in a ballistic 7.2 seconds; the Ghost Extended's longer body means it has 170mm of extra room (above); Ferrari's Portofino M has a new gearbox and a revised engine that produces 620 horsepower, 20 more than before.

BT_20200925_MCLAREN_4256837.jpg
The McLaren can accelerate to 200km/h in a ballistic 7.2 seconds; the Ghost Extended's longer body means it has 170mm of extra room; Ferrari's Portofino M has a new gearbox and a revised engine that produces 620 horsepower, 20 more than before (above).

Singapore

COVID-19 might be putting the brakes on the world economy, but the world's most prestigious motoring brands are keeping their feet firmly on the accelerator, as sales at the upper end of the car market rebound.

Yesterday, Rolls-Royce unveiled the Ghost Extended, a stretched version of a new car that was itself launched earlier this month. At S$1,398,888 without certificate of entitlement (COE) or optional extras, the Ghost Extended costs S$140,000 more than a standard Ghost, but its longer body means it has 170mm of extra room for the boss to lounge around in the back.

Rolls-Royce expects it to be a car for both "business and family use".

The day before Rolls-Royce pulled the covers off its new model, rival Bentley Motors showed off three cars at Salon Prive, a classic car show held at Blenheim Palace in the UK. None were off-the-rack machines. Instead, the three showpieces were put together by Mulliner, and each was an example of the division's ability to craft cars from scratch, customise existing Bentleys or rebuild the brand's heritage and classic models.

But British brands aren't the only ones defying the Covid-19 virus.

Last week Ferrari launched its first new model since the start of the pandemic. The Portofino M, a revamped version of its entry-level convertible (the "M" is for "Modificata"), will sell for around S$900,000 without COE when it arrives in Singapore. Apart from tweaked styling and new features, the Portofino M has a new gearbox and a revised engine that produces 620 horsepower, 20 more than before. Local distributor Ital Auto expects to have a unit in town by March next year for customers to have a closer look.

While the car world's most coveted brands have been busy at a global level, September has seen plenty of action from them in Singapore, too. On Tuesday, Porsche officially launched the Taycan here, with prices for its first electric model starting at S$485,988 without COE.

Early this month, McLaren Automotive, the road car division of the famous Formula One racing team, conducted private viewings of its 765LT here.

A hardcore model with a production run of 765 cars, the McLaren can accelerate to 200km/h in a ballistic 7.2 seconds. At least six buyers have put their names down for one, despite a price tag of S$1.6m without COE or options.

In fact, sales at the high end have been resilient in the face of Covid-19. While the new Ghost has yet to be sighted in Singapore (customer deliveries only begin in early 2021), Rolls-Royce says that buyers remain keen on its other models. "Phantom and Cullinan are still showing healthy demand, keeping us busy. So, business has not stopped," Renee Chua, managing director for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Singapore, told The Business Times. "Moreover, we are seeing strong interest in the new Ghost."

Like other car companies, the luxury players had to shut down production during the worst of the pandemic, while global lockdowns halted retail sales. In every major market but China, where car sales have rebounded, the industry on the whole continues to reel from the economic fallout, with August sales down 9.5 per cent and 17.6 per cent in the US and European markets respectively, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Yet, things look brighter at the high end. "The situation is overall very positive," Dieter Knechtel, president, Far East and Middle East for Ferrari, told BT. "Some of the markets have taken a stronger hit, such as Australia, but some of the markets here in Far East have basically been completely unaffected."

Japan, Korea and other East Asian markets are doing "very well", he said. "Even in South-east Asia, I have to say, we do not see any strong impact so far. Singapore is one of those markets that are very strong."

Yet, the pandemic has forced brands to make changes to the way they market their cars. Glitzy launch parties and press conferences have given way to online events or closed-door viewings.

Porsche launched its Taycan virtually, with a prerecorded video on its Facebook page. In July, Ital Auto invited customers to see the Ferrari Roma, at the time its latest car, in tiny, socially distanced groups. "The Covid situation of course did not allow us to have a big bang event with hundreds or thousands of people," Mr Knechtel said. "We needed to re-format our car presentations for small groups of people, five in Singapore."

At least Ferrari sees these smaller affairs as a way to make the best of a bad situation. "We have even more time and more of a personal touch to explain the car," Mr Knechtel said. If Covid-19 was a major speed bump for the car industry, the companies that build its most expensive models have picked up speed again the fastest.

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