I thought I would share a few thoughts and observations on a number of things that have recently caught my attention in the auto universe. None of these has enough depth for a full blog in their own right but thought they were still worthy of sharing. What the future will look like in six months is anyone’s guess but at least with vaccines rolling out, there is hope for a more normal tomorrow in the not too distant future.
The Ferrari SUV
While not officially confirmed that Ferrari will be launching an SUV in 2022, rumored to be called the Purosangue, it is one of the world’s worst kept secrets. The funny thing is Ferrari spent years denying they would ever launch an SUV. The former CEO, Louis Camilleri, stated that he hated the word SUV and that it did not belong in the same sentence with Ferrari. Other Ferrari executives have stated that a SUV is not part of Ferrari’s DNA and the Enzo would roll over in his grave if it were to happen. Yet here we are. Poor Enzo is being set up to do a 180 and Ferrari’s DNA looks like it’s about to be permanently mutated.
Two questions come to mind; #1 why and #2 is it a good idea? I am sure that Ferrari will issue a very polished press release when they launch the Purosangue which will not call it a SUV and will explain why it is the right move for the Ferrari brand. However, I think the core reasons are quite basic, money and fear of losing out. On both counts, I believe Ferrari is being both shortsighted and misjudging the impact of their brand. It’s hard to argue against the fact that in the short term, a Ferrari SUV will boost the top line. While it might be margin dilutive, on a cash basis, it should add incremental profitability. However, there are easier ways for Ferrari to goose its financial results without having to put the essence of its DNA at risk.
With a near two year wait list, increasing production capacity to meet the excess demand on the existing portfolio would achieve much of the same outcome. Ferrari is also potentially losing a fair number of customers that simply don’t want to wait that long to get their car. Increasing production capacity so the wait list can be brought down to a more reasonable six months would not only increase sales for the few years it takes to ramp up production, but it would also give a long term boast as potential customers who would have walked away in the past, will now stay.
On the “fear of losing out” on the SUV craze, this is where I really believe Ferrari is making a mistake. They can afford to lose out. SUVs are not who they are, and they will detract Ferrari from being true to its core essence. Can Ferrari sell 5,000 SUVs a year? I am sure they can. Could Ferrari sell an additional 5,000 units of other models in the current portfolio if they really wanted to? I am sure they could do this too. While the SUV risks changing the core essence of the Ferrari brand, increasing production of the existing supercar portfolio has little to no risk. What’s driving this fear? Mostly what the Volkswagen Group has done with Bentley & Lamborghini and to a lesser extent Aston Martin. When I looked at the numbers though, the picture on if getting into SUVs is a huge success its not exactly clear cut. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that VW builds the Bentayga and Urus off of the same platform used for the Audi Q Series SUVs so the added development cost & complexity on the manufacturing side is fairly minimal.
As Bentley’s annual unit sales are similar to Ferraris, Bentley is an interesting case to look at. In 2014, the last year pre the Bentley Bentayga SUV launch, VW sold 11,033 Bentleys, in 2019 VW sold 12,430 Bentleys of which 5,232 were Bentaygas (I am using 2019 as it’s a cleaner base. 2020’s numbers are distorted by all the disruptions caused by Covid-19). That’s a 2.4% CAGR in terms of units and on a € basis the CAGR is only slightly better at 3.7%. It is not exactly impressive and hardly a major success. Net net, the vast majority of the Bentayga sales came from cannibalizing other Bentley models.
The Lamborghini numbers tell a bit of a different and much rosier story at first glance. I don’t believe it is as relevant to Ferrari given Lamborghinis much lower starting base and weaker brand equity. To give you an idea of the importance of Lamborghini in the VW Group, while even Seat and Skoda’s financial results are broken out, Lamborghini’s are just lumped in with Audi’s. In 2016, the last year prior to the Lamborghini Urus SUV launch, VW Group sold 3,579 Lamborghinis. In 2019, 8,664 Lamborghinis were sold. Of the 8,664 Lambos, 5,233 were Urus’ which would indicate that the Urus brough new buyers into the Lamborghini brand and the volume was fully incremental. The added volume would certainly have been a welcomed by the dealer network and taken Lamborghini from a borderline brand to relevant and more supportable. When looking at shorter term sales trends though, it seems that Urus sales have now flattened and will likely remain in the 5,000 units per annum range going forward. Lamborghini now has a situation where 60% of their sales are SUVs and the way this will change brand perception in the medium to long term is significant. For VW, turning Lamborghini into a SUV brand is probably not a major concern as long as that moves more units. What is also interesting is both Bentley and Lamborghini seem to have topped out at around 5,000 units for their respective SUVs.
So, is selling roughly 5,000 SUVs a year a good business decision for Ferrari? If they need to increase total volumes by 5,000 units, there are a lot of other ways to get there that do not put the brand at risk, add a huge amount of extra complexity to an already highly complex supply chain, and may cause poor Enzo to do back flips. On a purely profit basis, Ferrari will make more money on 500 next generation LaFerraris then it will on selling 5,000 Purosangues. Ferrari’s current market capitalization is $52 billion which means the market values Ferrari at $5.48 million for every car it produced in 2020. No other car company comes even remotely close (next closest is Tesla with a valuation at $1.2 million per car produced). That number will not hold if you throw 5,000 SUVs into the product mix. While SUVs may be the hot thing today, they might not be tomorrow and once launched, a Ferrari SUV is not something you can undo. Ferrari has done a great job of building shareholder value over the last half decade without an SUV and there is no reason it suddenly needs one now to continue to do so.
Aston Martin – DBX Update & The Not Exactly Works F1 Team
The DBX SUV is supposed to be the car that saves Aston Martin and the latest business plan calls for sales of 4,000 per year (down from a pre Stroll takeover of 5k). In a recent interview, Ed Moran, interim president of Aston Martin the Americas, stated that DBX sales were averaging about 90 per month. As the Americas represent about 30-35% of Aston’s global sales in any given year, this would put Aston Martin on track to sell 3,000-3,500 DBXs in 2021. Its short of 4,000 but close assuming the current sales rate continues. The risk is that sales will drop off in the 2nd half of the year once the early adopters have all taken delivery and the DBX is no longer the new new thing.
Stroll has made quite a big deal about the Racing Point F1 Team becoming the Aston Martin Works F1 Team in 2021. In fact, all Aston Martin is doing is paying Racing Point a sponsorship fee to put the Aston Martin name on the car. In essence, it’s no different to what they were doing with Red Bull last year. How writing a check to Racing Point suddenly makes them an Aston Martin Works team, given there is currently no shareholding relationship between the two, is a bit beyond me. It’s almost as if Stroll believes that if he calls it a works team often enough, people will just start believing it really is. In any event, based on a how the new, not exactly works, Aston Martin F1 team looked in the opening race, the car business might not want to be that closely linked to them this year. Bringing a “clearly on the decline” Sebastian Vettel onto the team at a rumored cost of €15 million a year does not look like it a wise move given in his first race he started next to last, finished 15th, and picked up 5 penalty points on his super license, while the driver Racing Point fired at the end of last season to give Vettel the seat, started last and finished 5th. If they were going to bring in a new driver, it should have been George Russell. However, the driver line up of George Russell and Lance Stroll would not have been particularly good for the younger Stroll’s ego after a few races.
The Ford GT (2017-)
This is a car I am still trying to figure out. So far Ford has produced around 950 GTs with a further 400 planned. When choosing who would be given the privilege of buying a Ford GT, the Ford Motor Company’s stated goal was to only sell to owners who would drive their cars. There is a two year lock out period on owners reselling their GTs so they only been showing up regularly for sale since mid 2019. Looking at the last 3 Ford GTs that have come up for auction (HammerPrice is a great resource), the highest mileage GT had 80 miles on the odometer and the other two were at 15 and 8.2 miles. I do applaud Ford’s intent of freezing out speculators while putting the cars into the hands of owner’s who would use and appreciate them (no matter how badly executed it turned out to be). However, perhaps Ford would have been served by setting a 2 year and a 2,000 mile lock out period.
Flipping and McLarens
Speaking of speculators, what I’ve seen happen recently with a number of limited edition McLaren models is a bit depressing. The Speedtail, Elva, and 765LT are all still in production yet we have already had one Speedtail sold at auction with plenty more available on the private market, and an Elva is about to be sold this coming week at auction (Bonhams Elva, April 10th). In addition, multiple 765LTs have already changed hands, in some cases already twice. Allowing this sort of speculative frenzy does little for the McLaren brand and certainly doesn’t encourage long term loyalty. Ford was right to put in a lock out period on the GT and Ferrari has its own methods for discouraging flipping. McLaren needs to take similar steps and soon.
Micro Manufacturers Update
Back in late 2019, I wrote an article on Hypercars & Market Saturation and followed it up with one on the Micro Manufacturers where I tried to evaluate who would make it and who would not. The Micro Manufacturers I took a look at included Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG), Brabham, Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA), De Tomaso, ATS, and Delage. The first three are all alive and well with quite a bit of activity already this year. GMA T.50 sold out shortly after the public unveiling last year and it has just launched the track version of the T.50, the T.50 Niki Lauda (McLaren should call its next track day special the James Hunt), the Glickenhaus SCG 004S is about to begin production and two SCG 007s (Le Mans Hypercar) chassis have been built and are in testing. Brabham Automotive delivered is first customer competition BT62 and launched a road legal version, the BT62R.
After the first three, the future is a bit murkier. De Tomaso has made little to no noise in 2021 other posting a couple of videos about their past, a few line drawings, and black and white pictures of a gearbox housing. This comes after 2020’s only significant develop being a rather arrogant statement that they were moving their operations to the US as “the time has come to restore the romance, beauty, passion and elegance in the luxury American automotive industry.” As of yet, De Tomaso has refused to confirm where in the US they are moving to. My guess is they will not be leasing space from any current US car manufacturers.
Signs of life for ATS have been very thin on the ground. There have been a few social media posts in 2021 of the same track car they have been posting about for close to a year now. In addition, their recently announced official US dealer turns out to be an auto repair & tuning shop in Washington State that doesn’t have any reference to ATS on its website.
The winner in the interesting timing category has to be the latest iteration of the French manufacturer Delage. After 70 years of being comatose, the new owners decided August 2020 was a good time to resurrect the brand and announce a new $2.4 million V12 hypercar, the Delage D12 with the hope/goal of selling 30 units. It is a twin seater but the passenger seat is mounted right behind the driver’s seat and doesn’t look like any accommodation has been made for a passengers legs. While they don’t have a factory yet, Delage did get Price Albert to unveil a model of the car in Monaco. No word yet if any deposits have been placed but I don’t see how the math works here. 30 cars at $2.4 million a car is $72 million in sales. The development cost alone will eat up most of the optimistically projected revenue and the build costs on each unit are likely to be well over $1 million.
Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.
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