2014: The year automotive luxury changed up a gear
2014 was a year in which a number of leading carmakers did their best to underline their credentials when it comes to luxury, exclusivity and personalization as the demand for something with four wheels that's just that little bit extra special continued to accelerate.
For most luxury and exotic carmakers, the year begins in March at the Geneva Motor Show and in 2014 it was the venue where both Aston Martin and Lamborghini revealed their latest designs.
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However, the designs in question weren't for new supercars but rather for showrooms and studio spaces where clients could come to specify every last detail of their new car.
As General Manager of VIP and Q by Aston Martin Sales, Dr Matthew Bennett explained at the show: 'The service is a natural extension of what many of our customers have expected of us for many years. The process of creating and specifying a new Aston Martin can take some time -- time that our customers rightly expect to savor. What Q by Aston Martin adds to that already exciting process is the freedom to think beyond specification sheets and options lists -- to challenge the designers and engineers here at Gaydon to use their talents to produce something truly remarkable, and unique.'
Neither Aston's 'Q' nor Lamborghini's Ad Personam services are new, they'd simply been reengineered to meet the growing trends within the highest echelons of the car-buying public. In June this club of car companies with bespoke wings saw its ranks swell when Jaguar Land Rover announced the opening of its Special Operations Division. An entirely new wing of the company that will undertake commissions and one-off creations and which, according to the company's Chief Executive, Dr. Ralf Speth: 'demonstrates our continued commitment to placing customers at the heart of everything we do.'
The first cars to pass through this special department include a Range Rover co-designed by gunsmiths Holland & Holland and six hand-built classic racing specification 1960s E-Types over which collectors are already fighting.
But what is driving the trend? According to Christian Humele, Head of Sales Strategy for BMW Individual Manufaktur -- BMW's bespoke service -- it's because: 'Each customer possesses an unmatched set of attributes and character traits that make up a quite distinct personality. Personalization services are a way of expressing this uniqueness.'
Unlike some of its contemporaries, BMW doesn't overtly broadcast its Individual range but Humele says that it currently delivers 20,000 models a year that have received bespoke detailing or been touched by handcraftsmanship.
Personalized touches across market segments
This need for an added touch of class isn't confined to BMW, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini clients. 'No one wants to have the same car as his neighbor, especially in some target audiences,' says Philippe Claverol, the director of brand strategy and experience for DS. 'People want a car with a strong personality, a car that expresses who they are or at least who they want to be seen as.'
This appetite for personalization, luxury and customization is why pretty much no two Minis sold in 2014 are identical -- the options and customization list is so comprehensive -- and it is also what has enabled DS, which was once a Citroen model range, to sell 500,000 vehicles to date and to this year break out as a standalone premium brand focused on attention to detail and personalization.
And DS wasn't alone in breaking out as a standalone premium brand in 2014 as the LA Auto Show in November brought with it the rebooting of Maybach, Mercedes-Benz's luxury limousine marque.
Based on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Maybach is not just longer but takes rear-seat passenger levels of comfort to first class air-travel levels with fully reclining seats and integrated champagne flutes.
'Perfection down to the last detail and a new dimension in seating and resting comfort for the rear passengers are the hallmarks of the new Mercedes-Maybach,' said Professor Dr Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG with responsibility for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development as the car was unveiled at the LA Auto Show. 'Our exceptionally successful new S-Class already defines the pinnacle of automotive engineering in a host of technical disciplines such as safety, efficiency, climate control and noise characteristics. The Mercedes-Maybach now sets the benchmark in the luxury segment even higher.'
However, how long that benchmark stays in place is a moot point as 2015 is expected to bring even greater levels of luxury and exclusivity from even more car makers -- Mercedes included. At the 2015 Geneva Motor show the company is widely expected to resurrect its Pullman limousine brand and launch a new range of models that will sit above even the Maybach.