Despite all debates on environmental justifiability and CO2 values, automobile manufacturers are continuing to develop exclusive, hand-made sports cars. The high-price vehicles generate little in the way of profit, but serve as test vehicles for cutting-edge technology.
The aircon hums, now and again a battery-powered screwdriver buzzes. On the shop floor of Porsche’s new Spyder 918 sports car, it is quieter than in an average open-plan office. A good 100 workers are putting together the luxury Über-Porsche available from September. Exclusively and hand-made, naturally.
For the second time after the legendary Carrera GT, Porsche is treating itself and its customers to a hand-made luxury model. Only 918 models will have left the company’s factory by production end in 2015. The prospective owner will have to be well-healed – the asking price will be 770,000 euros. An expensive venture – for owner and producer. Head of production Michael Drolshagen says Porsche “is not building the automobile to generate particularly high profits, but to demonstrate the levels of excellence Porsche is capable of achieving.”
Projects such as the Spyder 918 make little economic sense. The development costs are too high. Ernst & Young’s Automobile expert Peter Fuss says that if the manufacturer builds less than 5,000 models, the question of margin is negligible.
Nevertheless, other manufacturers build their own top of the range sports vehicles. Daimler has its Mercedes SLS, Audi its mostly hand-made R8, and BMW is developing its i8 electric sports car, due to arrive on the market in 2014. For the manufacturers, the limited top models offer an opportunity to test whether tech or materials are suitable for mass production, says Fuss. Such tech includes air suspension, assistance systems, airbags, or carbon as material. According to Fuss, the sports cars are “in a sense mini laboratories for cutting-edge technology.”
Porsche is using new materials in its Spyder 918. The central console is made out of gorilla glass, as also used in smartphones and touchscreens. Large parts of the interior are carbon, which gives off the appearance of brushed aluminium. The tech games serve customer retention, says Drolshagen. “A simple boutique character in the sense of “only the best will do” would not suffice.”
The gas-guzzling image of the ultimate sports cars is also a thing of the past. Green tech including hybrid and electric engines are also finding their way into the top of the range sports models. In its Spyder 918, Porsche is for the first time using a hybrid engine, and has succeeded in massively reducing the vehicle’s CO2 emission. VW subsidiary Audi also claims significantly improved efficiency in its R8 engine than in other engines. At the same time, Audi emphasizes that the sports car segment is relatively small and thus barely influences the total fleet CO2 output figure. On the question of environmental acceptability, the Lamborghini spokesman notes that the sports cars “are not cars that are used daily”.
The guiding example of limited production runs are the range of luxury producers like Bugatti, Ferrari and Lamborghini. At its production facility in Alsace, France, the VW subsidiary Bugatti produces around 40 vehicles per year. Ferrari limits the annual production of its hybrid LaFerrari to 499 models. The sports car is equipped “with the most advanced solutions”, which will find their way into the range of Ferrari sports cars.
Special wishes are naturally catered for. A spokesman for Audi said that a customer once wanted the same unusual paintwork of his yacht on his Audi R8. Combined of course with a particular leather type and color inside.
Customer care of this manner serves above all image, according to automobile expert Stefan Bratzel from the Bergisch Gladbach University of Economics. “The model is positioned, with a cascading effect down to other models”, says the expert.
These luxury sports vehicles are unlikely to be seen on German Autobahns. Most of the (in any case few) luxury vehicles will find their way to the Middle East, says Ernst & Young expert Fuss. “The customers are an absolute elite group; amongst them will be the one or other Sheikh or multi-billionaire”, says Bratzel.