Chinese billionaires are requesting cars that don’t exist yet

    Personalized modifications are propelling the luxury automotive industry forward, with leading brands providing extensive customization options and new bespoke features.
    Rolls-Royce’s $28 million “Boat Tail” Coachbuild from 2021 features extensive customization. Photo: Rolls-Royce
      Published   in Hard Luxury

    People might have once dreamed of living in an era when cars could dance. Well, that time has come: Chinese automotive group BYD’s upcoming Yangwang Y9 electric supercar features a “dance mode” that makes it jump and shake to your favorite tracks.

    BYD’s DiSus suspension system enables the vehicle to jump a few centimeters off the ground and even drive on three wheels.

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    That is the level of unique automotive technology that today’s luxury consumers, propelled by a desire for customization and personalization, demand.

    More and more high-end brands are catering to this trend, from Rolls-Royce’s Bespoke program, which offers unique colors and custom interior features, to Bentley’s Mulliner Personal Commissioning Program, which enables customers to tailor every aspect of their vehicle to suit their needs.

    Aston Martin’s Q by Aston Martin division invites consumers to directly collaborate with a team of designers for one-of-a-kind vehicles. Meanwhile, Bugatti, Porsche, and Lamborghini offer custom trims, unique finishes, and a range of interior or exterior design customization options.

    Thanks to the surging popularity of customization, sales of bespoke luxury cars are reaching unprecedented levels. Lamborghini sold more than 10,112 vehicles in 2023, a record number, while Ferrari sold 13,663, generating revenue growth of over 17 percent.

    BYD’s Yangwang electric supercar is a two-door sports car. Photo: BYD
    BYD’s Yangwang electric supercar is a two-door sports car. Photo: BYD

    DIY luxury#

    In conversation with Jing Daily, 18-year-old self-proclaimed “petrolhead” Eric Gwei, who recently attended China’s annual GT Show in Suzhou, says, “I believe demand for car modifications is rising rapidly. Supercar owners may also get to try their hand at building their own machine as well.”

    One company making that happen globally is, established as a “luxury matchmaking service for bespoke hand-built vehicles.” Often working with HNWIs, including one Chinese billionaire, the company caters predominantly to consumers who want to have a car that does not yet exist.

    Co-founded by Ian Smith and Nick Campolucci, works with carefully-selected manufacturers on a menu list that offers color options, interior trims, and so on. Luxury clients are offered either a restoration of a vehicle or an entirely new build. Active in the contemporary resurgence of "coachbuilding,” the company enables consumers to build their own vehicles from scratch.

    “Some of our clients are asking for something that doesn’t exist, so we make it exist for them,” Campolucci says. “A few of our one-off pieces run into multiple millions of pounds."

    He emphasizes the extent to which his company has to prove to luxury consumers that each project is a one-off. To do that, after a car is built, all the machinery used in the process is either shipped to the customer’s location or destroyed at the factory, with the business providing video evidence.

    The uniquely created cars that Casmin Group makes are oftentimes never driven by their owners. For the world’s most wealthy, the ultimate luxury is evidently buying something expensive and not even using it for its original purpose — a trend that, Smith says, is contributing to the return of aluminum in bespoke car manufacturing.

    “Beautiful Italian cars were made of aluminum, but it is very time-consuming, and has to be done by hand,” says Smith. “Carbon fiber was then invented for the aviation industry, and people started using it in cars. It’s very strong, very light. But the biggest collectors are returning to aluminum.”

    Collector’s item#

    Smith and Campolucci say that the extent to which their services are personalized makes the space not trend-driven. Each choice is down to the individual, selecting colors or details that tell a personal story.

    Luxury car brands are receiving requests for unique exterior paints, upholstery and trims, or personalized monograms and embellishments to show that the cars are unique to their owner.

    China-based Gwei says the most popular modification among his peers “is changing the color of the car with color wraps.”

    “That’s probably the simplest way to express yourself through your car,” he adds.

    In 2023 alone, over 30 new paint colors debuted in the car market, from Bentley’s Wasabi Green and Sunbeam Orange to Cadillac’s Cyber Yellow and Chevrolet’s Panther Black Matte.

    There are extensive possibilities when it comes to car colors, with a Lamborghini specialist even reporting that crushed Swarovski crystal dust can be used to create paint. The automaker revealed a Revuelto supercar with shimmers of fluorescent paint at Art Basel Miami 2023.

    Lamborghini Reveulto “Opera Unica” debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach 2023. Photo: Lamborghini
    Lamborghini Reveulto “Opera Unica” debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach 2023. Photo: Lamborghini

    The rise of these experimentally modified vehicles is blurring the line between art and luxury cars.

    After all, as Campolucci says of some of Casmin Group’s most elaborately bespoke requests, “They’re never going to turn a wheel on tarmac. People are putting them in glass boxes in display rooms because they’re considering them works of art rather than functional pieces of machinery.”

    For high-end consumers, cars are another luxury collector item, akin to jewelry or watches. Furthermore, the founders say that wealthy individuals in their 20s and 30s, along with second-generation millionaires, are looking for ways to invest, and ultra-customized autos fit the bill.

    As these investment cars increase in number, non-traditional car enthusiasts are entering the space, too. Whether owners want to rent their supercars out for events, or to keep hold of them with a view to turning a profit, unique models are seen as a reliable investment. The Ferrari Dino 246GT is an example, which rose in price by 818 percent between 1980 and 2018. Reported by CarEdge, the five-year resale value of Acura is at 86.29 percent, while Porsche is 82.33 percent on average, followed by Lexus at 79.82 percent.

    From the rise of personalized requests to the influx of new investors, the luxury automotive industry is experiencing a pivotal moment of growth and evolution, in China and all over the world.

    • Luxury car brands, including Aston Martin, Bugatti, and Rolls-Royce, are offering extensive levels of customization to meet the demands of their high-paying consumers.
    • The personalization trend in luxury fashion has extended into automotive industry, with “coachbuilding” becoming more commonplace among HNWIs. The Casmin Group, for example, works with clients to create cars that do not yet exist.
    • Many of these bespoke cars are seen as investment pieces. The five-year resale value of Acura is at 86.29 percent, while Porsche is 82.33 percent on average, followed by Lexus at 79.82 percent.
    • With the tastes of HNWI collectors becoming more niche, luxury brands must increase their offerings of bespoke, limited edition features.
    • As the luxury car industry caters to an increased desire for customization, how much will the popularity of this trend impact the resale value of investment pieces?
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