Minimal economic growth and lower purchasing power have affected sales of luxury cars to a greater degree than the rest of the market, with the segment down by an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent on last year.
“The potential buyer of a BMW, Mercedes or Maserati isn’t buying, not because they don’t have cash but because they are not economically comfortable in the current situation,” said Nabil Bazerji, managing director of GA Bazerji and Sons, a Maserati dealer. Sales of the luxury Italian car are down roughly 25 percent from 26 cars in 2010 to 20 this year. BMW sales have dropped by more than 50 percent, from 816 units to 396 as of October 2011, while Jaguar had sold 99 units in the same time, compared to 200 at the end of 2010.
“We have demand but it has not been an exciting year,” said Michel Trad, Director of Saad & Trad, dealer for Fiat, Abarth, Jaguar, Bentley and Lamborghini. Only eight Bentleys were sold this year, compared to 22 in 2010, and just one Lamborghini. Trad is hoping a new convertible Bentley model will boost sales next year. The company is also the sole distributor for British super car McLaren, which launched its long-awaited new model, the MP4-12C, in Dubai in November.
What made surprising inroads is a compact designer car, the Gucci Fiat 500. “Lebanon was the only place that got the Gucci 500 outside of Europe, as Fiat thought Lebanon was a trendy place to sell,” said Trad. “You won’t find 100 on the roads — only around 10 and a max will be 25.”
Warding off potential buyers of super cars is a tax of 63 percent, equivalent to a minimum of $150,000.
“With such high taxation, customers expect something in return, such as good roads free of pot holes,” said Marie-Claire Chammas, marketing manager of Sports Motor Group, exclusive distributor of Ferrari. “As a result, our main competitors are the Gulf countries, as tax is only 5 percent there.”
But this has not held sales back for Ferrari, which are up 200 percent since 2009, with the company selling around 40 cars per year.
“For us, the luxury segment is getting better. None of our competitors have even a third of our sales. There is a two year waiting list for the 458 Spider, and nine to 14 month waiting list for other models,” said Chammas.
Pushing sales has been the Ferrari California, a two-door, four seat sedan. “The California has attracted new clients,” she said. “Before, Ferrari drivers were all about racing, but the California is more about lifestyle and is more versatile. And there are more women drivers than before.”
Mana Automotive, dealer for Range Rover, Land Rover and Aston Martin, is hoping that the recently launched four-door Aston Martin Rapide will find similar popularity as the Ferrari California. “The Rapide will do well as Lebanon is a four-door market,” said Nadim Tewtel, president and managing director.
Bucking this year’s downward trend alongside Ferrari is Porsche, with similar sales as in 2010 at 285 units. “We should end the year with around 320 to 325 units, and in 2012 we’ll grow by 10 percent or more,” said Charles Tarazi, assistant general manager of the Porsche Center Lebanon. Sales were heavily skewed towards the Cayenne sports utility vehicle, whose share doubled to 68.8 percent of all Porsche units sold, from 33.3 percent in 2010. “Some of our sports car sales were down as new models will be out in 2012 — the 911 in February, which we’ve been waiting a year for now, the Cayenne GTS and the Panamera GTS.”
At least for some models, the belt-tightening can wait.