There’s money in the air at Monterey Car Week, so where better to sell a rare new Bugatti or Ferrari?
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held since 1950, is America’s flagship classic-car show. Gawked at by thousands of sharply dressed attendees, dozens of the world’s most covetable cars compete for the prestigious Best of Show award.
Many of the carmakers featured on the oceanfront fairway at the Pebble Beach golf course — Delahaye, Duesenberg, Isotta Fraschini — are lost to history. But modern luxury brands have elbowed into the upscale bacchanal known as Monterey Car Week: hosting events, sponsoring parties and organizing sporting drives for their loyal and potential clients.
They are there to stress their history as well as show off their new instant classics. “If you look at the show lawn at Pebble, and all the fantastically significant historical products that are there, and then the number of Bentleys that are amongst them, it’s quite humbling actually,” said Adrian Hallmark, the marque’s chief executive. “It really does reinforce the history of the company, and put into context what we’ve achieved.”
But while carmakers love to reclaim their storied past, there are other, more contemporary, and mercenary, reasons that they’re present. Pebble Beach is an ideal opportunity for purveyors of stratospheric cars to connect with their target demographic.
“The right people, wealthy people from all over the world, congregate at Pebble,” said Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute, a consulting firm. “People talk about inclusivity, but certain aspects of luxury are meant to be exclusive. They just want qualified buyers at events like this, and it’s really hard to go to the Concours d’Elegance and not be eminently qualified.”
Or, as Tobias Moers, the chief executive of Aston Martin, said last month from the brand’s rented oceanfront villa on the Pebble Beach property, “When it comes to North America, everybody who buys cars in our segment is probably here.”
Over the past decade, high-end automakers have increasingly shied from consumer auto shows and moved toward more selective lifestyle events.
“First of all, if we look at auto shows, apart from in Asia, the attendance numbers have been steadily declining,” Mr. Hallmark said. “But to give you a real indication why we don’t go to shows, we could do 10 Pebbles for the price of one motor show.” He continued, “We used to do five motor shows per year. But I’d much rather do two shows and 20 Pebble-type events, where you can get much closer to the customers.”
This closeness is mutually beneficial. With million-dollar cars, sales are often driven by relationships and access. Being present at a manufacturer’s invitation-only unveiling at Pebble Beach provides an opportunity for clients and potential buyers to hobnob with executives and designers, nudging a decision they’re already inclined to make, or pushing them over the signing line.
“We have eight or nine sales people here, and these guys know the customers, and the customers appreciate that,” Mr. Moers said. “They are able to speak to their representative sales person from Aston Martin. And they know them. They have a relationship.”
These relationships provide a quantifiable return on investment. At the last Car Week, in 2019, Bentley brought 100 new cars to lend their attendees, and to chauffeur them to events. “We offered those cars to all 500 customers who came, if anyone wanted to buy them, and we had people fighting over them,” Mr. Hallmark said. “I think we sold about 80.” For a brand that sells fewer than 3,000 cars in the Americas a year, whose least expensive vehicle starts at $165,000, that’s a pretty solid week. Aston Martin’s Car Week sales are “in a similar ballpark,” Mr. Moers said. “Maybe even higher.”
When I was a boy in Detroit, in the 1970s and ’80s, the treasures of the Detroit Auto Show were found in the basement of Cobo Hall. But will access to dream cars eventually be limited to those who can already afford a $500 ticket to a concours?
“Social media, that’s the most important thing,” Mr. Moers said. “You get engaged with the kids there.” He added, “There are concerns that with Instagram, you’re maybe not going to reach your potential customers. But probably with the prospects, the customers for the next generation.”
To generate sales and not just interest will take more than some social media posts. “I think it will be a much more intimate, relationship-oriented purchase, especially at the high end,” Mr. Pedraza said. “You’ll see the cars online, you’ll engage in augmented reality or virtual reality experiences. You’re going to make a significant expenditure, so you’ll test-drive the car in person. But the brands will come to the customer. This kind of concierge service is going to expand further and further.”
Cars Revealed at Pebble Beach
Nearly a dozen high-end automakers unveiled concept and production-ready vehicles at Pebble Beach. Here are some highlights.
Aston Martin Valkyrie Spider: The Valkyrie is a limited edition Formula One car for the road, with radical aerodynamics and engineering, and a screaming 1,100-horsepower hybrid gasoline-electric V-12 engine. The Valkyrie Spider sports a removable roof panel, for a more visceral experience. Only 85 will be made and each will start at approximately $2.75 million, before customization.
Audi Sky Sphere Concept: Audi’s vision of our electric future harks back to the brand’s 1930s past with this Art Deco-inspired convertible two-seater. With a 623-horsepower electric motor and highly advanced driving assistance technologies, it is meant to be both a sporting driver’s car, and a semiautonomous grand tourer. When the robots take over, the steering wheel disappears and the wheelbase expands by nearly 10 inches for a more refined profile and ride.
Bentley Blower Continuation/Bacalar: Bentley showed off the connection between its heritage and its future. It displayed a continuation series of its race-proven, supercharged 1920s Blower. Twelve $2.1 million reproductions of these old cars will be recreated, piece by piece, at the factory. All are spoken for. It also showed off its new Bacalar, a roofless, limited edition, $1.9 million, carbon-fiber two-seater that recalls the brand’s coach-built past. All 12 have also been sold.
Bugatti Super Sport/Bolide: The French carmaker Bugatti produces some of the most expensive cars in the world, with its lowest-priced Chiron model starting at $3 million. It displayed its new Chiron Super Sport, a nearly $4 million rocket capable of reaching 273 miles an hour. But it also revealed plans to produce a limited run of the Bolide, a track car concept with a stripped-down and lightened body, and an up-powered version of its monster 16-cylinder, quad-turbocharged motor, with the power of 1,825 horses.
Ferrari 296 GTB: Ferrari introduced its first plug-in hybrid supercar this year, the $625,000 SF90 Stradale. It now adds this approximately $250,000 hybrid sports car to its battery-boosted lineup. The GTB sports Ferrari’s typically alluring design, with a compact size and a lighter weight than its larger siblings, and it brings 818 horsepower from a V-6 engine and electric motor.
Koenigsegg Gemera: The Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg introduced its first four-seat car, the $1.7 million Gemera, in Monterey. Initiating a category it calls the Mega GT, this new vehicle features room for four passengers and their baggage, without sacrificing outrageous performance. With 1,700 horsepower from three electric motors and one small three-cylinder engine (known as the TFG, Tiny Friendly Giant) it will be good for launching to 60 miles an hour in under 2 seconds, and will feature 30-plus miles of electric range.
Lamborghini Countach LPI 800-4: Lamborghini celebrated the 50th anniversary of what is perhaps its most iconic and outrageous supercar, the Countach, by unveiling a new model with that same name. Like the original, it features a roaring V-12 engine, angular wedgelike styling, triangular side air intakes, and a louvered rear window. Unlike the original, it has all-wheel-drive, a seven-speed automated gearbox, a mild electric hybrid assist system and a $2.64 million price tag. Only 112 will be produced.
Lotus Emira: Famed for a manufacturing process that favors subtracting weight over adding weapons-grade power plants, Lotus has found a small but passionate audience in America. Its latest entry-level sports car, the Emira, follows this formula. The swoopy, approximately $75,000 two-door will feature lithe handling, and dapper British good looks, as well as the brand’s final internal combustion engines before its move to full electric power.
McLaren Artura: McLaren made its name as a technologically advanced racing group, but over the past decade or so, its marvelous road cars have competed on turf staked out by Ferrari and Lamborghini. The $225,000 Artura is the brand’s first plug-in hybrid supercar, with a twin-turbocharged V-6 engine and an electric motor that combine to produce 671 horsepower, good for 3-second sprints from 0 to 60 and a top speed of over 200 miles an hour.