Maserati SpA's new sport-utility vehicle was one of the most sought-after models at the Frankfurt car show last week, and Ferrari SpA predicted record sales as executives said ultra-luxury remains recession-proof.
The two upscale brands, both owned by Fiat, may help the carmaker, based in Turin, Italy, weather a decline at its main business as Europe's credit crisis worsens. Even without the new Kubang SUV, Maserati aims to boost deliveries by almost eightfold to 45,000 cars in 2014 as it increases dealers by 150 percent worldwide.
Ferrari expects to deliver 7,000 cars in 2011 on demand for its first family car, the $356,000 four-seat FF that came to market this year. Fiat's most profitable unit plans to cap sales at 7,000 going forward to maintain exclusivity.
"I'm not worried because we have quality, exclusivity, a strong brand and innovative technology," Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said in an interview when asked about the effect of the economic slowdown.
The ultra-luxury optimism stands in contrast to concern voiced from volume carmakers that a worsening debt crisis in Europe is prompting consumers to rein in spending. PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO Philippe Varin said this week that Europe is facing a possible recession, while Ford Motor Co. said sales in the region next year will be little changed.
Sales of the main high-end European luxury brands -- Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin -- will rise 19 percent this year to 28,090 vehicles, and gain another 13 percent in 2012, according to a forecast from industry analyst IHS Automotive.
Rolls-Royce, owned by BMW, expects in 2011 to break last year's sales record of 2,711 cars, Chief Executive Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes said, adding that China may overtake the U.S. as its top market.
The German executive said he's "optimistic" about the prospects for the super-luxury segment and that his company so far has not been affected by the slowdown.
The ultra-premium segment is likely to weather this downturn better than the previous crisis, Mueller-Oetvoes said.
Bentley Motors Ltd., whose customers include Queen Elizabeth II and the Sultan of Brunei, rolled out an updated version of the Continental GTC convertible at the Frankfurt show with deliveries of the 575-horsepower model starting before the end of the year.
"The rich have gotten richer, and the number of millionaires in emerging countries is really growing. So the demographic trend is very positive" for the ultra-luxury carmakers, said Erich Hauser, a London-based Credit Suisse automotive analyst. "Things would have to get very nasty before they face a problem."