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Who buys luxury cars?

Erin Baker looks at who exactly is in the market for a luxury car, and how brands are adapting for new audiences.

Quick quiz: do high-net worthers care about the environment more or less than the rest of the population? You might think less - they fly in private jets, burn through heating and electricity in big houses and drive cars with huge engines. Except, that last bit is wrong, for a start, for two reasons. First: cars with huge engines tend not to be driven as much as small cars with smaller engines - not many Ferrari 812 Superfasts do the same sort of annual mileages as Ford Fiestas; rather they spend their time in temperature-controlled garages, waiting for the sun to come out. Second: not many high-net worthers own luxury cars. One luxury car brand has been doing some extensive digging into who its customers and prospective customers are, and it turns out wealthy individuals buy premium cars (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes) rather than luxury models.
Partly this is explained by a brief glance at the models traditionally made and sold by luxury car makers, namely supercars. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bugatti, McLaren… all makers of V12 sports cars which don’t suit the vast majority of drivers out there. Hence why everyone has turned to SUVs - Porsche’s Cayenne, Bentley’s Bentayga and Lamborghini’s Urus outstrip sales of their sibling models by a squillion and then some.
But that doesn’t solve the second problem for luxury car makers, which is that 99 per cent of the world’s wealthiest people just aren’t really into cars. They’re into travel, mindfulness, health, unique experiences, art, property, boats... but rarely cars. Unless the car in question is a sound financial investment, or a work of art, which amounts to the same thing for most consumers.
So how do car brands sell their wares? Where do they find new customers and keep existing ones loyal? They have been forced to delve into worlds unfamiliar to their legacy: they now build luxury apartments in Miami, design yachts, engineer submarines, partner with handbag labels, set up home ranges, and swing heavily from brand aesthetics to brand ethics. This last trick is the big departure for most brands, because it’s not just a trick - it’s learning how to live a new truth, which is that corporate responsibility towards the planet must become a central plank in all future-proofed business models.
So when you see Bentley planting 2,000 tulip bulbs at its HQ in Crewe, you know that it’s a signifier for what goes on behind the surface with that brand: decarbonising the supply fleet, using renewable energy in the manufacturing process, working with alternative fuels, offering open-pore woods and leather substitutions. All of which are vital, but hard to communicate in a sexy way to new consumers who are looking for ethical brands to buy from, hence the tulip bulbs: it’s what it represents. And that’s not only the future of the planet, but probably the future of most luxury brands, too.

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