So much for scaling back. The world’s rich and elite — or those who just want to appear so — have been cracking open their wallets in a big way lately, and luxury automakers are the beneficiaries. Bentley Motors announced that sales in the first quarter of 2013 were up 26% globally compared to the same period last year. Sales in the Americas increased 35% for the same time frame. The automaker, which is known for high-price, high-end models like the new Flying Spur (MSRP from $200K), still has a very small portion of the auto market. Just 2,212 new Bentleys were delivered to customers worldwide during the first three months of 2013, compared to 1,759 the year before. Even so, Bentley isn’t a mass-market type of operation, and the automaker is on pace for what it would consider a huge year. In 2011, for example, global sales hit 7,003, a 37% increase over the previous year. This year, Bentley should easily top that 2011 sales total. More importantly, in terms of gauging the state of the global economy (and the willingness of the rich to drop big bucks on plush, pricey new toys), it’s noteworthy that Bentley is hardly the only luxury automaker doing brisk business lately. USA Today reported that Porsche just had its best January ever for sales, up 32% compared to January 2012. Once February and March sales totals were in, Porsche Cars North America announced it had experienced its best-ever first quarter, with 9,650 vehicles sold, a rise of 35% compared to the same period last year. Audi also said that it just had the “strongest first quarter in its history” with 369,500 units sold, up around 7% from the January-March period in 2012. Jaguar Land Rover sales were up 17% in the first quarter, according to the Guardian. (MORE: Luxury Wheels, Honda Price: New Breed of Upscale Cars Selling for About $30,000) Given the numbers, it’s unsurprising that expensive new luxury models have been flooding auto shows. A recent New York Times piece offered
Luxury automakers like Mercedes, BMW and Cadillac would hate for their cars to be described as merely “average.” Yet new models from these and other upscale auto manufacturers are average in a way that’s undeniably appealing to consumers: they all have starting prices at around $30,000. The average price paid for a new car is $30,803, according to Edmunds. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that $30,000 is being called the new “sweet spot” for introductory-model luxury cars. It’s the price point at which high-end automakers can attract buyers of fairly average means. Think of this as the equivalent of luxury designers launching affordable fashion lines aimed at the aspirational masses. While several automakers are pushing luxury-within-reach cars, Mercedes is getting the most attention with its new CLA line of vehicles. The line starts at just under $30,000 — previously unheard of for Mercedes — and is expected to attract younger buyers especially. In addition to the price, the Super Bowl commercial featuring Kate Upton probably had some role in boosting interest in the new Mercedes series. What’s particularly interesting is that Mercedes is especially targeting the average — rather than elite — consumer: ‘They could eat into the mass market,’ IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland said to Automotive News. ‘A $30,000 Mercedes — and they will cap the car at $35,000 — is an incredibly competitive price point, even against the higher-end Honda Accord.’ (MORE: Not Your Grandpa’s Mercedes: Luxury Carmakers Aim for Younger, Less Rich Clientele) BMW, meanwhile, has introduced the 320i sedan with a base sticker price of $33,445 — $4,300 less than the previous low price for a 3-series vehicle. While Car and Driver is a fan of the 320i, the editors took note that the new car’s 180-horsepower engine is a downgrade from the 240-horsepower 328i: The loss of 60 horsepower isn’t felt during daily commutes, but when pushed harder, there is an undeniable performance difference. There are a few other sacrifices as well: The M Sport package, for those whose interests are in show rather
Here are some Black Friday data points to enlighten (and perhaps annoy) shoppers while they’re waiting in line for stores to open up, wondering whether prices will be cheaper next week, or arguing with a driver in the parking lot after getting into a car accident: Increasingly, it almost seems easier to find things that are listed on sale rather than full price throughout the holiday period. In fact, 44% of shoppers say they will “only buy sale items” over the holidays because they anticipate that merchandise—pretty much all merchandise—will eventually be discounted. More than 20,000 Black Friday deals are expected to be advertised this year, up from around 17,000 for Black Friday 2011. The number of Americans who are likely to hit the stores over Black Friday weekend is down this year … to a mere 147 million consumers. In the buildup to Black Friday weekend of 2011, as many as 152 million Americans were expected to descend on the malls. More than half of American consumers had already started their holiday shopping as of the first week of November. (MORE: 8 Black Friday Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make) Meanwhile, 78% of consumers say they wish stores would not play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, and 75% say that stores shouldn’t put up Christmas decorations until after Turkey Day. Nearly one-third of American consumers think that Black Friday sales start too early; also, 34% get stressed out by Black Friday shopping because “the thought of that many people in one store is scary.” Some of the memorable (and scary) incidents experienced by Black Friday shoppers in the past include: • Got shut out of a store because the fire marshall arrived. • I almost got run over by an older woman in a motorized wheelchair. • I was pushed into a skid of DVD players and ended up with a concussion. Here’s one more reason to stay home: Progressive Insurance reported that claims over parking lot car accidents increased 36% from Black Friday 2010 to Black Friday 2011.
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