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High-performance stakes in luxury car market

DESPITE the GST, the dot.com crash and the effects of September 11, luxury car sales in WA are holding firm, and growing strongly in some cases.

While BMW and Mercedes-Benz are still vying for first place in the European luxury car sales race, Porsche enjoyed its strongest year ever in Australia last year and this year is looking strong.

The GST has not had much of an effect on the attractiveness of luxury cars. Thanks to the luxury car tax, their pre and post-GST prices have not changed much.

And while the outlook for luxury car dealers is not overly bright, the news is not all grim.

Alf Barbagallo group marketing manager Greg Ross said the company did a five-year forecast that had sales starting to tail off by the end of this year before starting a recovery towards the end of 2002.

“So far what we have forecast has come to pass and we expect next year to be dead slow,” Mr Ross said.

“We all need to get over the fear of advertising and get back to it.”

Westpoint Star dealer principal Michael Cho said Mercedes’ sales volume was up 25 per cent,

with the tri-star badge selling

about 60 cars in WA each month.

Mr Cho agrees this is partly due to changing perceptions that the Mercedes is no longer considered an older person’s car.

“We have people in their 30s buying C-Class coupes these days,” Mr Cho said. “Of course, it is also a question of whether the younger buyer can afford a Mercedes. But it doesn’t mean they don’t aspire to own one.

“We still consider ourselves a top brand and charge a premium, but we are pricing ourselves closer to the competition.”

The price range for a new Mercedes is from $36,500 plus on-road costs to more than $350,000.

Mercedes’ near rival BMW is also enjoying good sales.

However, Auto Classic dealer principal Peter Roberts believes the marque has an edge in sales over Mercedes.

“We sell a lot more cars than Mercedes and we’re selling about 60 a month,” Mr Roberts said.

A new BMW ranges in price from $45,000 to $225,000.

Mr Roberts admitted sales had slowed in September and October.

Chellingworth Motors dealer principal Greg Arnold said he had not noticed any slowdown in sales.

Chellingworth carries the Rolls Royce, Bentley, Porsche and Chrysler Jeep brands.

It has been Australia’s biggest seller of Jeeps since 1994.

“Sales of luxury vehicles have been increasing over the past three to four years,” Mr Arnold said.

“Perhaps there is deemed to be more value in luxury cars than was perceived previously.”

The dealership sells up to three Rolls Royces or Bentleys each year. Their prices start at $500,000.

Mr Arnold said Porsches had proved very popular in the past two years, with the Boxsters and 911s being the most sought after models.

That marque ranges in price from $110,000 to $400,000 for the top line 911GT. The GT is only built to order and Mr Arnold expects to get just two of them in the next 12 months.

Masseratis, once deemed too temperamental for most car owners, have enjoyed a renaissance.

Mr Ross said the dealership was currently the biggest Masserati seller in the world per head of population. However, he expects that to change when the carmaker starts its US push.

Barbagallos also sells Alfa Romeos, Audis, Jaguars, Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

Mr Ross said the boost in Masserati’s popularity had come because the new models had gone through the same sort of renaissance as Jaguar.

Jaguars, particularly in the 80s, were dogged with all sorts of mechanical problems. When Ford took over the company in the mid 1990s it applied its engineering and design techniques to the new models and removed many of the problems.

Mr Ross said the XJ was one of the top performers in the Jaguar stable. The top of the range model sells for about $240,000.

“It’s a real bloke’s car and we sell about two to three of them a month,” he said.

The dealership’s least expensive car is the Alfa Romeo 147 at $43,000. The most expensive makes are the Ferraris and Lamborghinis, which start at $550,000.

“We only have about 50 people in WA capable of buying a Ferrari,” Mr Ross said.

“But we can easily sell up to nine a year. There are about 75 Ferraris in WA at the moment.”

While a great deal of pleasure comes from owning a high-performing imported European sports car capable of going from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in less than five seconds, there are very few avenues available to put that to the test.

About the only place where a driver can legally put that to the test is on a racetrack.

Barbagallo Raceway is available for hire for $1,500 plus GST.

Alf Barbagallo clients are invited out there about six times every year to put their cars through their paces.

The WA Ferrari club also holds events there for its members.

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