Bugatti’s ‘Sky Is the Limit’ Strategy of $13 Million, One-Off Supercars
(Bloomberg) -- Lamborghini’s SC18 Aventador is a one-of-a-kind supercar created from a blank sheet of paper, hand-in-hand between Lamborghini chief designer Mitja Borkert and its anonymous buyer. Unveiled late last year, it was the first of what will be a growing number of multimillion-dollar commissions from the Bologna, Italy-based brand, according to Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s chief technical officer.
Bugatti, a Volkswagen AG brand, is also making multimillion-dollar one-off cars for the world’s supremely wealthiest collectors. Witness the Bugatti La Voiture Noire, a $12.5 million ($18.9 million, counting taxes) beast that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year and that retains the title of most expensive new car ever sold. It will be delivered to its (also secret) owner by the end of 2021.
But while both cars are unique, they embody opposing design philosophies. Lamborghini starts from a blue-sky “whatever you want” approach for those who can cough up the funds, while Bugatti develops the car first and then asks a prospective buyer: “Do you want it?”
I spoke with Frank Heyl, the head of exterior design for Bugatti, in Lake Como, Italy. We were there for the annual Concours d’Elegance Villa d’Este, and he had brought Bugatti’s big, black beauty to show off on the lawn. As Bugatti President Stephan Winkelmann chatted with European collectors and vintage driving enthusiasts, Heyl discussed the burgeoning market for custom body (aka coach-built) cars—and why Bugatti will never give a customer a pen and say: “Have at it.”
The La Voiture Noire has seemed like a great success, at least in terms of media hype and, of course, the fact that it has a buyer. Now you’ve got the task of putting it into production, and it won’t be delivered until late 2021. In the meantime, do you have the sense that there is room for more cars like this from Bugatti? What is the world appetite for the coach-built car? Could we say there are hundreds of people globally who would want to purchase a similar vehicle?
Easily. The market for this is really growing, and the brand is so strong that we have come to see now that the sky is the limit.
This reminds me of the statistic Bloomberg reported: that many Bugatti owners actually own two or more of them.
Yes. There are a lot of multi-owners, which is significant when you consider that our base product is $3.2 million. There are people that actually bought a Chiron to get a Divo. [Only people who owned one of 500 Chiron cars made were invited to purchase a Divo.] That shows how strong the brand is and how the brand is perceived.
So, on a higher echelon than the “mainstream” Bugatti owner, what type of people are the ones buying one-off cars like La Voiture Noire?
Well, obviously, collectors and enthusiasts. It wouldn’t be so easy if the brand didn’t have the heritage already built up now for so many years.
The La Voiture Noire car is the spiritual successor to Jean Bugatti’s personal Type 57 SC Atlantic that got lost during World War II. I know the idea for it has been percolating at Bugatti for more than a decade, but I imagine the timing had to be right before you finally produced it:: The market had to be able to support it.
Yes. Back when I started [11 years ago], it cost a million dollars to buy a Veyron. Then we started the special [Veyron] Super Sport, which broke the world record. Initially, we thought we could sell a dozen or so. But it was actually more. We felt, like, “Okay, there is more room here, let’s keep pushing.” And by talking to the customers, it became very clear that there is so much more room for more ideas.
What about doing what Lamborghini does, allowing customers to create their very own cars. Would Bugatti do that type of ultra-hyper-bespoke one-off work where the customer calls the shots?
To have a customer coming to say, “I have this or that car in my mind,” that’s not how we work. When you talk about coach-built cars, it goes the other way around: It has to come from us. We have an idea for something, and we say to the customer, “Would you be interested?” Some say yes, some say no.
Why not do it?
When it is the other way around—I have also been involved in similar one-off projects, not for Bugatti—it gets very very difficult. You have to be very, very disciplined in your process. Otherwise your process will explode, and your time will run out. If you are not very disciplined in that process, it will not make a business as well. After all, in the end, we have to make it work financially.
It doesn’t mean the customer cannot say, “Hey can you do this?” For example, the six tailpipes on La Voiture Noire. That was a specific dream from the customer request. But even that requires a little bit of discipline, too.
I imagine there are particular benefits associated with a coach-built philosophy.
Compromise works for other brands. In principle, the problems you go through in the development process of a coach-built car are similar to others, but you can solve them in so many other ways, it’s incredible. You can solve them with technology that is just simply not available in high-volume cars that have to be metal-press stamped, or cased, or high-volume injection-molded. None of that exists on these cars. They’re all handmade. So you can do very special solutions for some of the problems that you might encounter.
As I said before, if you do a mainstream model, then you have to serve all kinds of tastes; you have to serve all kinds of needs for the technical basis and so on. In doing coach-built cars, you can target very specific, very far-out directions in a way that you otherwise could not do. And it frees us up as designers as well. It’s a wonderful thing to return back to the traditional coach-building.
Of course, that is Bugatti’s heritage, anyway, even though the brand former glory had largely disappeared until VW bought the nameplate in 1998, and the Veyron debuted in 2005.
Right. You just have to look at what Bugatti was 100 years ago. They would do a Bugatti Royale. Look it up! The car was for kings. Or they would do the Atlantic. These were cars for the extremely wealthy, at the top of the pyramid. And the Chiron was the top of the pyramid. And now we put this one, La Voiture Noire, on the top of the pyramid. So from here, we go only up.
Does that mean we can expect you’ll be doing more one-offs?
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