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Supercar sales forecast to rise more than 60% in Europe by 2017

The slump in the European market for supercars exceeding €100,000 is coming to an end as confidence returns following the region’s prolonged recession and automakers begin to replace aging models. Led by models such as the BMW i8 and Audi R8, European sales in the segment are forecast rise to 21,000 units by 2017, up from 13,000 last year, according to figures from IHS Automotive.

The consultancy predicts that the rebound for cars costing more than €125,000 will start this year.The return of consumer confidence is perhaps the biggest tailwind. “Last year was one where we were still seeing economic pressures in the region, which was likely to have made some people reluctant to buy something extravagant,” IHS Automotive senior analyst Ian Fletcher stated.

He said the problem was worse in Italy, where a crackdown on tax evasion has hit sales at brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann disclosed earlier this year that the supercar maker’s customers were targeted. “Some of our customers were stopped by the Italian finance police while driving, which they said made them feel hunted,” Winkelmann said.

More buyers also will drawn back into the market by a growing number of renewed and all-new models. IHS predicts several cars will break the 1,000-sales mark in 2016 whereas in recent years only the Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari 458 Italia and Audi R8 managed to achieve four-digit sales.

IHS predicts the newly launched BMW i8 plug-in hybrid supercar, which starts at €126,000 in Germany, will outsell all other supercars in 2015 with a volume of about 1,700. Next year is also when McLaren’s lowest-priced model, code-named P13, will debut. McLaren has said the car’s base price will be about €160,000. The segment is forecast to get another boost in 2016 with the arrival of the new generations of the Audi R8 and Ferrari 458 Italia. IHS predicts that Ferrari will sell nearly 1,500 units of its revised 458 in 2016 and that Audi will lead the segment with a volume of nearly 2,400 R8s. “New models do certainly drag those with the money into the market,” Fletcher said.

McLaren executives say that automakers have to be fast in updating or replacing older models. “There’s an element of customers wanting something quicker, the desire to have something newest and best,” McLaren Chief Financial Officer Richard Molyneaux said earlier this year. “Something like an Astra or Corsa is typically in a five-year cycle. You can’t have that at this level of the market.”

One company suffering from slow product renewals is Aston Martin, which is a key player in the European sector with three cars in the top 10 (see chart). Aston Martin, however, is “at a low ebb,” Fletcher said. The company is in the process of developing a new architecture to replace the 10-year-old VH (vertical horizontal) platform that was created under previous owner Ford and underpins all its current cars. In May the company announced “the biggest investment program in the 101-year history of the brand” with £500 million to be spent on the “next generation of high-performance sports cars,” it said in a statement. The cars will also use V-8 engines supplied by Daimler’s performance arm, AMG, in a deal announced last December, replacing the current Ford-built units. The changes will give the company the boost it needs, according to IHS, which predicts sales of Aston Martin’s new V8 Vantage will jump to about 1,500 in 2016 from about 650 units for the older version in 2015.

What analysts say is increasing the attraction of very high-end cars is their improving usability and economy. Bentley, owned by the Volkswagen Group, has said that to make its cars more fuel-efficient it will offer a plug-in hybrid option on 90 percent of its models by the end of the decade, starting with the forthcoming SUV in 2017. Ferrari, meanwhile stated that CO2 from its cars has been cut by 40 percent since 2007 and that it wants to cut another 20 percent by 2021.

The VW Group is now in a position to see cost savings from platform and technology sharing from its luxury brands, Fletcher said. Bentley said its new SUV, due in 2016, will share a platform with the new Audi Q7 large SUV, while sister brand Lamborghini will also use the underpinnings for its Urus SUV, which is due in 2017. In April sources at VW said  the Urus will be built at VW’s plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, alongside the Audi Q7 and bodies for the Bentley SUV. In July Bentley head Wolfgang Duerheimer confirmed the bodies-in-white for the SUV will be made outside its Crewe, England, base without giving a location. Duerheimer also said the brand is working closely with Porsche, and that a planned fifth model following the SUV could use a Porsche-engineered front-engine, rear-drive platform internally known as MSB (German for Modularer Standardantrieb-Baukasten, which is modular standard platform in English).

Those lacking the synergies of a wider group often struggle. “Production numbers of more than one unit a day require substantial investment into facilities and quality control, as well as sales network and vehicle servicing, and that hurdle is often hard to overcome,” Christoph Stuermer, global lead analyst for PwC Autofacts said. However the big advantage luxury and sports car makers of all sizes have right now are the rising markets. Said Fletcher: “Purchases of vehicles at this end of the market, particularly sports cars, are mainly driven by confidence in what the future holds.”