Austerity has become a watchword for public figures in recent years, keen to appear aware of the economic decline affecting the rest of us. But Ruth Lognonne finds the market for one symbol of wealth and success - the luxury car - is as buoyant as ever.
THE economic slide which has led most to rein in spending in recent years has led motor dealers across the nation to report a slump in sales.
But while most of us scrimp and save, delaying big purchases like a new car as long as possible, there are a few wealthy folk who are not only still happy to splash out on a shiny new motor but to make sure it is as big, fast and flash as they can reasonably afford.
In fact, it appears to be the one area of the car market which is expanding. The market share in luxury cars has grown by around 1% every year for the past decade or more.
And although this increase is due in some degree to footballers, singers and Hollywood stars, it can’t just be Simon Cowell and Jay Z who are responsible.
There is a fair proportion of customers who have made a pile in business and want to let others know about it or those who have worked night and day for decades and want something they can enjoy for themselves.
Or maybe they are just finally able to realise their dreams of driving an Aston Martin like James Bond.
According to the region’s largest independent car dealers Benfield, business leaders are often keen to differentiate themselves from the rank and file and a combination of ego and money sends them searching for something a cut above the ordinary when it comes to transport.
And there are those of all classes and incomes who want to enjoy the quality, prestige or plain old snob value of owning marques that would have once been out of their reach.
Prices of the smarter brands are sliding as many customers pick economy as their main buying criteria and as the quality and level of luxury of mainstream brands has soared in the past few years.
And the demand for ever more expensive cars has risen while the prestige of owning a mid-market executive motor like a BMW or Audi has diminished as they become far more common.
Benfield managing director Nigel McMinn said: “Brands like BMW, Mercedes and Audi are becoming more affordable as smaller, cheaper versions are launched on to the market.
“It doesn’t matter who you are – business person, family person, or young person – everybody seems to want premium branded products nowadays.
“That is because we live in an aspirational society. TV and magazines evoke emotions in us and make us want to have associations with those luxury brands.
“Of course if these brands become too mainstream, then successful business people can often seek to go one better.
“That is why the likes of Porsche, Bentley and Maserati are having a successful time of things at the moment.”
An uncertain global economy hasn’t significantly dented sales for ultra-luxury car maker Bentley, which announced earlier this month that sales as of the end of September had reached 5,969 units, a 25% increase year on year, up from 4,759 in 2011.
Double-digit growth was seen across the board in all of Bentley’s top markets, with European deliveries rising 20% to 950 cars and UK deliveries rising 10% to 854 cars.
Benfield has also got in on a slice of the action, after recently unveiling the first showroom in the UK entirely for Maserati sports cars.
The car dealers won the right to open the only standalone site selling the prestige marque.
And bosses of the Newcastle-based firm are confident that demand will be strong, despite prices starting at around £80,000.
McMinn said: “We predict we’ll sell about 30 to 40 of these next year as we’ve already had around 80 serious inquiries since opening our showroom less than eight weeks ago. We sold our first Maserati to Newcastle United footballer Jonas Gutierrez and both Fabricio Coloccini and Ryan Taylor have both expressed an interest.
“The Maserati feels exciting and is something which makes you smile when you drive it.
“If you choose the right brand it’s an extension of you and your business. If you want to say, ‘My business is a success and financially buoyant’ then you can say that with a nice car.”