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So what exactly will $200,000 buy?

Super-luxury cars often come with serious horsepower, a custom interior, your pick of everything down to the color of the seat belts, and concierge services. So who's buying them?

By LOUIS HAU
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


A budget of $200,000 or more would buy quite a nice house in the Tampa Bay area. But what exactly does it get you in a car?

Among other things, more power than you'd ever need on a 65-mph freeway. Perhaps a 12-cylinder, 500-horsepower engine. Formula One-style paddle shifting. More than 600 pounds of torque.

For interior or exterior styling, there can be myriad choices: different seat leathers, convertible tops, roof liners, dashboard materials, even the color of your seat belts.

If you buy a Rolls, Bentley or Aston, the choices presented by dealers are mere suggestions. They'll let you opt instead for a "bespoke," or customized, car. If you prefer, you can have the interior done up to look like the material on your living room couch or the pink-and-yellow polka-dot pattern on your tie.

"You may have the most hideous color taste in the world," says John Crawford, public relations director for Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motor Cars Inc. in Auburn Hills, Mich. "We may disagree with you, but if that's what you want, we'll do that for you."

The benefits continue after the sale. If your super-luxury auto is in need of repairs, Dimmitt Cadillac of Clearwater and Aston Martin-Jaguar of Tampa will provide loaner cars, even though both dealerships point out that their customers typically have other vehicles at home, sometimes a dozen or more.

Dimmitt offers a concierge service to its Rolls and Bentley customers. Need a hard-to-get ticket to a concert or sports event? The concierge will hunt it down for you.

The Aston dealership on E Fletcher Avenue in Tampa will open a new showroom in about a month that will feature walls and floors made of travertine marble. It will be the first to be built in accordance with Aston's new design guidelines, with "modern, very simple, contemporary lines, like a Prada store," Aston Martin communications manager Christina Bruzzi says.

Who actually forks over the extravagant sums of money required to purchase a super-luxury vehicle?

The simple answer: those who can. Access to huge amounts of cash, which is what most buyers use to pay for their purchases, is a given. Beyond that, recent customers at local dealerships are all over the map: entrepreneurial businesspeople, professional athletes, heirs, real estate developers, plastic surgeons, investment bankers, even lottery winners.

The image of some nameplates has evolved to appeal to a younger (but ultra-rich) demographic. Bentley, in particular, has benefited from its image in rap-music circles as the ultimate in luxury on four wheels.

On an early episode of MTV's popular Cribs show, hip-hop producer and recording artist Jermaine Dupri raved about his Bentley.

"They tell me every big dog has to have this car," Dupri said. "So any other houses you go to and they claim they're a big dog and they don't have this in their driveway? They're . . . no big dog."

Rolls-Bentley PR director Crawford, who saw the Dupri interview, says admiringly, "That's as close as I can get to explaining it."

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