The US wants to declare war on Iraq, world stock markets keep plummeting and the oil price has hit a new high. Is this bad news for the superluxury market? It depends who you ask…

The US wants to declare war on Iraq, world stock markets keep plummeting and the oil price has hit a new high. Is this bad news for the superluxury market? It depends who you ask…

On the face of it, the global automotive industry's emerging superluxury segment is taking no notice of political and economic uncertaintly in this day and age.

Mercedes-Benz has already received 1 000 deposits for its Maybach limousine - enough to account for the first year of production. Volkswagen AG's Bentley is on target to meet production records with its upcoming Continental GT. And BMW-owned Rolls-Royce, which is expecting to sell around 1 000 cars a year, has confirmed that it already has over 100 firm orders.

A string of advance orders suggest there is room for growth at the top of the automotive market, reported this week. However, the stakes in this sector are high because the respective manufacturers have invested in the region of R10 billion in their flagship ranges.

So far, 1 000 Maybach customers have each deposited R405 000 and Mercedes-Benz has begun taking orders for 2004.

"The car has been accepted very, very well," says Leon Hustinx, Maybach's director of marketing and sales in the US.

So far, about 30 per cent of the car's purchasers have ordered the long-wheelbase version, dubbed the 62. In the long run, Hustinx expects orders to be split evenly between the 62 and the shorter 57.

Among the three new superluxury cars, only the Rolls-Royce Phantom is already available on certain markets. Rolls-Royce expects to produce as many Phantoms as they are asked to build, but in reality the number would not be higher than 1 000 a year.

"I'd prefer not to get into a public contest over who's sold out the first year," says Howard Mosher, sales and marketing director for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Chichester, England. "We intend to be market driven. We'll produce what the market wants. At the moment, we're on plan."

However, Bentley does not share the opinion that there is room for growth at the top of the automotive market.

There are not enough wealthy car buyers, willing to spend millions of rand on one luxury car, to meet the sales targets of Bentley, Rolls-Royce Maybach, Bentley director of marketing and product strategy Mark Tennant said last week.

”We think the aggregate numbers don't stack up," Tennant said, adding that Bentley was expecting sales of its Arnage T saloon, currently running at around 900 cars a year, to fall once both the Rolls-Royce and the Mercedes Maybach went on sale.

Bentley chairman Franz-Josef Paefgen told the that he thought that there was a shrinking number of people now willing to make an overt, ego-driven statement with a huge petrol-thirsty behemoth, and that in Europe, buyers were increasingly looking to more "socially-acceptable" choices, as well as being worried about the state of the economy and world unrest.

Having said that, Paefgen was "still quite optimistic" that targets for the new Continental – 3 500 cars a year - would be met, and deposits have been taken from 3 000 customers.

Original article from Car