How supercar dealers clinch a sale

Hannah Elliott
Bloomberg News

Brett David has made nearly $2 million selling cars through Instagram in the first half of this year alone.

That figure refers to sales sparked directly by specific Instagram posts, the 30-year-old owner of Prestige Imports said this week in Miami. That’s not to mention sales that may have been inspired by an Instagram post but took time to percolate before finalizing.

David is in the middle of promoting the soft opening of his $17 million dealership, which is equipped with a green room and video production team primed specifically to let clients make Instagram-worthy photos and clips of their million-dollar toys. For him the room, which cost $140,000 to build, is an essential tool in staying relevant: “You have to know how to connect not through creating customers, but through creating fans,” he says.

As the modern super-luxury market continues to change, automakers and dealers are changing the way they seduce new buyers and retain the romance with longtime clients. Here’s how they do it:

Know the market

At Bugatti’s showroom in Greenwich, Conn., dealers have long known that the typical individual who places an order for the $2.5 million Chiron (wait list: six months) already owns Bugatti’s previous multimillion-dollar stunner, the Veyron. Those owners are also acutely attuned to social media and are well under age 50.

Three thousand miles west, at the opening of the Newport Beach Pagani dealership last month in California, company founder Horacio Pagani himself told me the average age of his customers is “more toward 30 or 35 years old — even in the 20s, in some cases.”

Follow fashion

Smart dealers see their business as pure luxury retail, closer to selling a brand identity than a device — like hawking a Birkin bag or Gucci shoes.

“You’re dealing with wealthy people, and they’re rich for a good reason: They understand that, like clothing, by and large the car is a depreciating asset,” said Tom O’Gara, Bentley’s dealer in Beverly Hills, Calif. So automotive brands must sell the story behind the asset and the lifestyle that goes with it. The best place to do that is on social media.

All about the experience

Aston Martin takes its atelier, as it were, directly to the customers, with personal exclusive “fittings” of its $3 million Valkyrie for the 150 individuals who merit the right to purchase one. (The materials covering the seats, dashboard, and headliner; the style of the body panels; and exterior trimmings such as rims and wheel covers are all bespoke.)

Pagani will do the same but in reverse, flying customers to company headquarters over the two to three years it takes to develop a car that it tailors the vehicle to the owner like a suit, down to sizing the car for torso length and shoulder width.

“You can’t go sell cars — you have to offer an experience,” O’Gara said. “Especially with the young millennials, that is what everyone is looking for.”

Foster community

O’Gara’s team hosts meet-ups every Sunday on Sunset Boulevard. More than 350 supercars of all varieties attend, with owners parking them on display in California’s morning sunshine. The time is one for selfies, glad-handing, and bro-ing out with like-minded car lovers.

In Miami, David has been known to source and help sell such assets as rare vintage mechanical watches for prized clients, as a favor of sorts. He hosts extravagant dinners with Armand de Brignac champagne and partners with private yacht and jet companies to allow guests full “land, air, and sea” service. He throws an annual Halloween group drive in which participants wear full costumes while they rally through Miami.

Let the customer lead

These days, most people enter dealerships having already done hours of research online and on social media and talked with friends who share their tax bracket about exactly what brand, model and color scheme of car they want.

Any good dealer knows he won’t be able to surprise the customer who already owns 10 supercars. Many clients know more about the car they want than the salesman at the shop — and that’s OK. The job here is to deliver.

Play hard to get

The other facet of cultivating the modern luxury buyer is fostering a sense of ultra exclusivity, both on the automaker on dealer levels. Production numbers must remain low — one-off models, ideally. Like red-carpet starlets in haute couture, the modern wealthy car enthusiast would never be so crude as to be seen in the same car as someone else.

“These cars are always instantly judged by their performance credentials, price tag, and ultimately, exclusivity,” said Jonathan Klinger, the spokesman for Hagerty, which insures blue-chip collectible cars. “These exotic brands are basically sold and spoken for before the first production one is even ready, so that you have instant pent-up demand.”