Super Premium Marques Seek Out New Venues To Show Wares

So you've spent a life flying in coach hoping someday that you could join the swells in first class enjoying champagne and caviar. Finally, you reach platinum status and get the coveted upgrade only to discover the people who were previously up front are now flying in private jets... and they've taken the champagne and caviar with them.

That's kind of the situation budding car enthusiasts find themselves in when thinking they can go down to their local auto show to see the likes of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McLarens in the flesh. Increasingly, these high end makes are no shows at even major shows in Los Angeles and Chicago. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on events like the car fest that occurs annually in August on the Monterey Peninsula.

Matt DeLorenzo is the former editor-in-chief of Road & Track and has covered the auto industry for 35 years, including stints at Automotive News and AutoWeek. He has authored books including VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's Modern Concept Cars, and Corvette Dynasty.

Case in point: Aston Martin will use venues in and around the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance for the North American debut of its new Vanquish. The $279,995 V12 GT was first shown Wednesday at Gordon McCall's Motorworks Revival at the Monterey Jet Center, Friday at the Quail: A Motorsports Gathering and Sunday at the upper lawn at the concours itself. In between, the British automaker will be hosting existing owners and potential customers for showings at a private mansion in Carmel.

"We still see value in auto shows for brand recognition and presence," said Julian Jenkins, Aston's vice president of the Americas. But, "there are an awful lot of shows and with budgets and personnel limitations it becomes an impossible task. Pebble Beach is clearly of one of the pinnacle events not just for the U.S., but also for a worldwide audience. It gives us an opportunity in a rather relaxed setting to interact with [clients] in small groups."

In the same vein, Lamborghini, which has been a no-show at Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Detroit, will be bringing its Urus SUV concept and Sesto Elemento (essentially carbon fiber-intensive limited-run sports car based on the Gallardo) to the Quail and will announce there its plans for 50th anniversary events it will hold throughout 2013. Also, rampant speculation has secret showings of the Ferrari F70 Enzo replacement and the McLaren F1 super car successor at Pebble to a select customers only – probably those aforementioned swells who now fly in private jets. A wider, though still decidedly high-end, audience will likely get their first look at the roadster version of the current McLaren MP4-12C.

Two factors are at work here: the limited sales and marketing budgets of these manufacturers and the high cost of exhibiting the car to the general public.

An event like the Monterey Weekend is perfectly suited for these makes to seek out prospects, do sneak previews of upcoming products, conduct ride and drives, make announcements to the assembled media and cultivate marketing relationships with other purveyors of luxury goods. For instance, Aston Martin is partnering with Davidoff (cigars), Jaeger-LeCoultre (timepieces), Louis Roederer (champagne), Lugano (jewelry), Robert Graham (fashion), Timothy Outlon (furniture), William Grant & Sons (spirits) and Vizio (consumer electronics) to outfit its mansion and leverage the idea that owning an Aston is an essential ingredient of living the good life.

Two factors are at work here: the limited sales and marketing budgets of these manufacturers and the high cost of exhibiting the car to the general public. The dirty little secret of some of the best know high end automotive brands is that as much as their vehicles cost at retail, the limited numbers, high production costs and relatively thin margins leave precious little in the budget to project a significant presence in the mass media and large scale public shows. As a result, the makers of super premium cars are more interested in rubbing elbows with the people who can actually afford their wares than cultivating a large following of admirers who some day may or may not be in a position to be a customer.

While that doesn't mean you won't see an Aston Martin, say at the Los Angeles Auto Show (some makes rely on strong local dealers to foot the bill for a small display), factory involvement at these major shows is clearly on the decline. And even at important international events, like the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, some of these marques have banded together to put on their own more exclusive show with higher ticket prices at the MGM Grand Casino or hold invitation-only affairs off-site rather than paying megabucks for a display on the show floor.

Makers of super premium cars are more interested in rubbing elbows with the people who can actually afford their wares.

If you can't score an invitation to one of the private showings, just trying to catch a glimpse of the Vanquish over the Monterey Weekend will still cost you dearly. Price of a ticket for the jet center event is $295 in advance or $325 the day of event; the Quail, which is sold out and limited to 3,000 or so people costs $450 a pop and, of course, the concours itself, where entry is $200 advance and $250 on Sunday.

While the well-heeled will have an opportunity to see the Vanquish this weekend, Aston's Jenkins is cognizant of the need to be able to show the car to a wider audience of enthusiasts. Even as the factory passes on having show stands at traditional auto shows, Jenkins is a big believer in grassroots events like Cars & Coffee, a free Saturday morning parking lot show that has become a local institution in Irvine, near Aston's U.S. headquarters. "We brought the Aston Zagato there and it's likely we'll show up some Saturday with the Vanquish as well." Still, being able to see a car like the Vanquish in that environment is a hit or miss affair. But the realities of the business, even in good times, means that you're much more likely to see the latest super car on the web than up close and personal.

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