Luxury carmakers explore lower prices

Charles Fleming
Los Angeles Times

Exotic car companies, eager to extend their reach beyond the super-rich, are offering increasing numbers of "accessible" luxury cars.

That is, if you consider $100,000 accessible.

Aston-Martin this year unveiled its V-8 Vantage GT Coupe, defined as "an accessible race car" by Julian Jenkins, president of Aston Martin's American operations.

The sporty GT-themed car — capable of a 190-mph top speed and going zero to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds — is the English company's first vehicle under the $100,000 mark. That's a bargain compared with the $302,000 sticker on a Vanquish Volante or the $154,000 for a mid-level Vantage S.

The Italian luxury automobile company Maserati, too, has gone down-market.

The Fiat-owned company has enjoyed some sales success with its lower-priced Ghibli, which starts at $66,900. Next year, the company will introduce its affordable but luxurious Alfieri, at something near $100,000.

The Alfieri — named after the founding Maserati brother most known for his passion for racing — harkens back to the company's classic 1950s 3500 GT and 5000 GT.

The sleek, powerful machine will be fired by a 4.7-liter, V-8 engine producing 460 horsepower, Maserati said, with a top speed of 185 mph and a zero-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds.

It's not for the average Maserati consumer, who might spend more than $150,000 for a Gran Turismo.

"It will bring in customers who may not see themselves in a Maserati," said Peter Grady, president and CEO of Maserati North America.

These are not the first car companies to lower prices and raise sales, noted Kelly Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer.

Porsche's lower-priced Cayenne SUV, which some critics had said might deteriorate the value of the brand as a whole, has instead invigorated it.

"The Cayenne was going to wreck Porsche as a performance enthusiast brand, but actually it has made the brand super-profitable," Brauer said. "The Cayenne largely funds the really high-end Porsches, and the Macan (the company's newer, smaller SUV) is going to do even better."

Similarly, Brauer said, Audi's A3, Mercedes' CLA and the BMW 2-series have also shown how a carmaker can "go down-market to up volume and be more accessible."

But now super-premium brands are doing it too, in part to sell more cars and in part to introduce mid-range to high-end car buyers to super-high-end cars, Brauer said.

"That's completely the plan," he said. "You try to get people hooked on the high-end brand ownership experience."

Lamborghini, too, may be poised to produce an SUV priced moderately — at least, compared to other Lamborghinis.

The Urus, according to reports the company has not confirmed, would be a sleek but rugged high-performance Lambo with an MSRP somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000.

Ferrari might be considered the brand least likely to go down-market — but don't be surprised if it does, Brauer said.

The top-tier Italian company's chairman, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, recently resigned, in part because he reportedly resisted pressure from Fiat, which owns the luxury brand, to move it more mainstream.

"You will soon see a sub-$150,000 Ferrari on the market," Brauer said. "And maybe even sub-$100,000. And I wouldn't be surprised to see an SUV too. (Fiat) is looking at that brand as a potentially much higher volume, wider demographic brand."

For Maserati, the gambit has already worked.

The Ghibli helped power the automobile company to its strongest August in its history — 300 percent above last year's sales.