|04-29-2013, 10:49 PM||#1|
M-B & BMW Driver
Wall St. Journal Article: "Car Makers Pitch Power as the Ultimate Luxury" by J. White
I have to say that it in my opinion he does a very good job of describing the typical buyer of Mercedes-Benz AMG's, BMW M-Series, Audi RS-Series, etc.,
including me, as a current M-B ML63 AMG owner and a new 2014 BMW M6 Coupe on order.
Below is a web link to the article that should be good for a while, followed by my "cut & paste" of the article as well.
Read it and enjoy.
Wall St. Journal Article: "Car Makers Pitch Power as the Ultimate Luxury"
In an era when a car's appeal seems largely defined by greener-than-thou engines and cooler-than-thou infotainment apps, luxury auto makers are looking for buyers who value a decidedly more old-fashioned attribute: hard-driving horsepower.
Big luxury brands are hoping to expand an elite market of drivers who are drawn to high-end performance vehicles engineered to racing standards, cars like BMW's M series, Audi's RS models, Cadillac's V-series and Mercedes-Benz's AMG line. These extreme performers have upward of 500 horsepower under the hood (more than double what's in a garden-variety luxury sedan) and can zip from a stop to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds or less-all while burning gas more wantonly than a big pickup truck.
To draw in a new generation of affluent car-enthusiast buyers, the big luxury brands are expanding their lineups of high-horsepower cars. They're using new technology under the hood to make their beasts more fuel-efficient and smooth-riding. Some brands, including Daimler AG's Mercedes and General Motors Co.'s Cadillac, are looking to offer more affordable vehicles in their elite performance lines.
More affordable-but not cheap. Most of the limited-volume, pumped-up versions of cars such as BMW AG's 3-series coupe or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan have starting prices tens of thousands of dollars higher than standard models. They command those premiums because sin still sells. A $90,000 Mercedes E63 AMG sedan that roars from a dead stop to 60 miles per hour in under 4 seconds is an exclusive, guilty pleasure.
Industry executives estimate that luxury brands sell about 30,000 to 50,000 vehicles a year through their high-performance subbrands. Sales tend to rise when new models are launched.
Hyping High Performance
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 4MATIC sedan
Low-volume, high-performance cars bring in a wealthier, more avid clientele. The buyers of Mercedes AMG cars, for example, are mostly men in their early 50s with a median income of about $430,000, compared with $191,000 for buyers of the brand's standard models. Many have multiple luxury vehicles.
Mercedes is undertaking an aggressive effort to expand its AMG brand, and make the entire lineup more efficient and more potent at the same time.
Mercedes has nurtured the mystique of its AMG brand for nearly five decades by shipping just a few thousand AMG models a year for customers willing to pay as much as $200,000 to own a car with an engine hand-built by a single craftsman in the southern German town of Affalterbach.
Mercedes wants to expand its AMG lineup to 22 models by 2014 from 18 at the start of this year. The notable addition will be an AMG version of the soon-to-launch CLA compact four-door, the first AMG model to come with a four-cylinder engine, albeit one that pumps out 355 horsepower. (Mercedes says the CLA AMG's engine will be the most powerful four-cylinder engine in regular production.) The ordinary CLA will start at $29,900. The CLA AMG will start at $47,450, more than $12,000 below the least expensive AMG model available now.
Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes' U.S.A., says the company plans next year to offer customers an even less expensive way to get a taste of the AMG brand. For less than $4,000, an AMG sport package will offer some of the appearance of an AMG car, a sportier ride and a small bump in engine performance.
"We don't want AMG to be a tiny…...brand nobody knows about," Mr. Cannon says.
Luxury brands say they want to maintain their cars' performance while upping the miles per gallon by using technology such as turbochargersgers, stop-start systems that shut down engines at stop lights, advanced transmissions and lighter-weight body designs.
Industry executives say high-performance buyers don't fret much about the price of fuel at the pump, but they don't like paying gas-guzzler penalties levied by the federal government on cars that fail to achieve a minimum threshold of efficiency. The tax can add anywhere from $1,000 to $7,700 to a car's sticker price.
Cadillac's next-generation CTSVcoupe, due out later this year, will be 244 pounds lighter than the current model, which will help reduce its gas-guzzler tax.
U.S. buyers of luxury-performance cars aren't looking just to drive fast, since the law forbids taking these cars up to even half their rated top speeds. Instead, industry executives say, the appeal is a combination of exclusivity and the pride of owning a driving machine capable of scorching up a racecourse-even if it never does.
"It's not, 'I use it,' it's 'I could if I wanted to,' '' says Barry Hoch, general manager of product planning at Audi's U.S. arm.
When BMW redesigned its iconic M5 performance sedan in 2012, it replaced the prior generation's ten-cylinder engine with a smaller, turbocharged V-8, making the engine 25% more efficient and boosting mileage to 16 mpg from 13 combined city and highway driving. Even so, M5 buyers see a $1,300 gas-guzzler penalty. Choosing a manual transmission cuts the fee by $300.
Volkswagen AG's Audi brand says none of its high-performance RS or S models, except the R8 sports car, is now subject to a guzzler penalty. With technologies like direct injection, cylinder on demand and seven-speed gear boxes, "you don't have to sacrifice," says Mr. Hoch.
Audi is expanding the number of RS high performance cars it offers in the U.S. with a 560-horsepower RS-7 sedan, which will challenge $100,000-and-up cars such as the BMW M6 Gran Coupe and Porsche Panamera.
Cadillac offers three, 556-horsepower "V-series" versions of its CTS model, which currently come with $1,300 gas-guzzler taxes on their stickers. Jim Vurpillat, global marketing director for General Motors Co.'s Cadillac brand, says the plan going forward is to help buyers avoid the penalties on new V-series models. Cadillac's next generation CTS, due out later this year, will be 244 pounds lighter than the current model, and will offer an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Skip Braver, owner of Cigarette Racing Team, the original manufacturer of the high-performance "cigarette" boats, says he has bought and sold a number of AMG models, and currently drives a white 2011 S63 AMG, a car that for 2013 starts at about $140,000.
A regular S-Class is a large, sedate limousine. The S63 AMG's turbocharged V-8 puts out 536 horsepower and can run to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, Mercedes says. Mr. Braver, who is 63, says an AMG car isn't the greenest choice, but "I don't drive that much." And he says the high-performance models hold their value better than conventional models.
"It looks like a performance car when you get in," says Mr. Braver. "It doesn't look like an old man's sedan."
A version of this article appeared April 10, 2013, on page D3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Car Makers Pitch Power as the Ultimate Luxury.
2014 BMW M6 Coupe
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