At $181,000 and up, a new Lamborghini isn’t for most car buyers. In fact, it’s roughly the cost of seven new Ford Mustangs.
But the eye-popping price tags haven’t deterred buyers of new and used high-powered luxury vehicles, the so-called “exotic” market. In the last four years, one recent study found that luxury sales in the 16-county Sacramento regional market more than quadrupled, another sign that the recession’s aftermath is easing its grip on car buyers.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the past year. … With exotics, it’s a lifestyle choice as much as anything,” said Rick Niello, president of the Sacramento-based Niello Co., whose local dealerships sell Acura, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Maserati and Jaguar cars.
A precise definition of the auto industry’s exotic-car segment varies, even among experts. For example, some don’t consider a model an exotic unless it starts at $100,000. Others cite high horsepower and exclusivity as characteristics of the category. And some experts prefer to use the word “supercars” instead of exotics.
“The old line used to be that an exotic was sporty, horsey (high horsepower) and pricey,” said Len Brewster, a Detroit-based auto analyst. “But with so many (exotics) on the market now, there’s a lot of disagreement.”
Regardless of the definition, it’s clear that sleek, ultra-powerful, pricey cars are selling again, here and statewide.
Niello said those sales did not crash as hard as general auto sales during the economic downturn: “In general, the people who buy (exotics) typically don’t need to borrow money to buy them, so they were not among those who could not get loans from banks during the recession.”
Buyers typically pay cash, he said.
What they’re buying
An Edmunds.com analysis of R.L. Polk data of exotic car sales shows that in 2010 there were only 34 new-vehicle registrations in the 16-county Sacramento designated market area, which includes Stockton and Modesto. That number jumped to 151 in 2014 – an increase of 344 percent. Statewide, exotics sales ballooned 214 percent to 5,217 last year, from 1,663 in 2010.
But Edmunds’ analysis might not tell the whole story of the current marketplace for exotic vehicles. For instance, the analysis includes Dodge, not a brand that many consider a maker of high-end cars, but its $85,000, 640-horsepower SRT Viper is on the list.
Notably absent from Edmunds’ list is Porsche, which makes a 520-horsepower 911 Turbo model that starts at around $150,000.
Despite those omissions, Edmunds said a major factor in the regional and statewide sales bump was last year’s rollout of the Maserati Ghibli, a 345-horsepower, comparatively affordable five-seater, starting at around $70,000. Some 102 Ghiblis were sold in the 16-county Sacramento regional marketplace in 2014, accounting for two-thirds of exotics registrations. Statewide, 3,153 Ghiblis were sold last year, representing 60 percent of California’s total exotic car sales of 5,217.
Yet top-tier exotics also are doing well.
Statewide, Lamborghini sales totaled 168 vehicles in 2014, a 342 percent improvement over 38 in 2010. And that includes the entry-level 2014 Gallardo, which started at $181,900.
Porsche’s latest, most lavish offering – the almost-million-dollar Porsche 918 Spyder – also has drawn local interest.
Two years ago, the German automaker started producing its Porsche 918 Spyder for 2015. Like its name, only 918 editions of the custom model are being made, with nearly 900 horsepower and a price range of $845,000 to $930,000.
Niello said three buyers in the regional market are interested in a purchase, and “we’re close to delivering our first one.” In the super-high-end world of exotics, the 918 is particularly noteworthy: “This is not a car that we have on the lot. What you do is make a $250,000 deposit, and they build the car for you.”
Used exotics red hot?
Used Porsches also are in demand locally, according to Trever Buckenham, sales manager at Luxury Motorcars at 6529 Elvas Ave. in Sacramento, which primarily sells used or “preowned” high-end vehicles.
“With exotics, we do mostly Ferrari, Lamborghini and classic Porsches. Porsches are just red hot right now,” Buckenham said.
Luxury Motorcars is one of numerous West Coast operations that handles transactions of used exotic vehicles, including selling older models on a consignment basis. On its website this week, it’s showing a 2009 Maserati Quattroporte listed for $55,995 and a 2005 Ferrari F430 for $109,995.
Buckenham said the current market for exotics is strong: “There’s absolutely a market for the desirable cars. They’re different. They’re fun to drive. … Some have been going up in value in the past five years.”
He said Luxury Motorcars ships about 20 percent of its vehicles out of the country, with Japan and Germany two of the largest markets.
As with mainstream dealerships, the online marketplace is driving sales.
George Grinzewitsch Jr., president and CEO of the Von Housen Automotive Group, said Web-browsing shoppers often end up contacting his Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Sacramento, El Dorado Hills and Rocklin. Mercedes exotics include the horsepower-laden SL- and SLS-Class models starting around $85,000 and ranging up to $230,000.
“It might be a particular color they want, new or preowned, but they find us,” Grinzewitsch said. “We’re having a very strong year. We’re well ahead of last year, and last year was a very good year for us.” He did not disclose specific sales numbers.
For buyers who know exactly what they want, “A Google search can bring up that very car,” said Niello. “It’s happened to us many, many times. … You have, say, a purple Lamborghini, and someone in the country is looking for that car; that’s how it happens.”
For years, Maserati buyers typically have been baby boomers with household incomes of $250,000 and up, said Adam Van Coops, general manager of Niello’s Maserati of Sacramento store on Fulton Ave. But today the local dealership is increasingly reaching out to millennials through Facebook and other social media portals.
“The age really doesn’t matter. Car people are passionate about cars, and (millennials) have that passion. They’re going to be our customers in the future.”
Despite the outreach online, old-school marketing still occurs.
Earlier this month, postcards from San Francisco Exotic Cars LLC, which operates a Ferrari dealership in Mill Valley, were mailed to Northern California households, offering to sell or consign their luxury cars. The company said its vehicle consignment program could bring the Sacramento owner “the highest return on your precious exotic and/or luxury car.” Attempts to reach the company about its marketing efforts were unsuccessful.
While there are currently no franchised Ferrari or Lamborghini new-car stores in Sacramento, buyers can find older, used models at Niello’s Maserati dealership on Fulton Avenue. Current inventory includes a 2008 Ferrari F430 Spider convertible, priced at $131,999, and a 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo for $149,980.
Van Coops, who said the dealership takes only “the cream of the crop,” said his certified preowned sales program topped Maserati’s U.S. dealerships in 2011 and 2012 and was in the top three in 2013 and 2014.
Niello says stocking quality used exotics makes good business sense.
“In the exotics segment, there’s a fairly painful penalty to the first buyer of these kinds of cars when they’re new,” he said. “But if you’re patient and can wait a couple of years, you can get a low-mileage car for maybe 50 percent of the original price.”
Despite the uptick in sales, Niello said not all buyers of exotics are out to flaunt their prosperity.
During the recession, he said, many customers “were prepared to buy a very expensive Porsche or Maserati, but they didn’t do it because they didn’t want to give the perception to their employees and friends that they were trying to flash their wealth.
“You have to respect that.”
Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.