LONDON - War with Iraq may be just around the corner, and stock markets keep plummeting to new lows. But the auto industry's emerging superluxury segment is taking no notice.
Mercedes-Benz already has received 1,000 deposits for its Maybach sedan - enough to account for the first year of production. Volkswagen AG's Bentley unit is on target to smash production records with its upcoming Continental GT. Rolls-Royce did not reveal how many deposits it has received for the new Phantom but says it is on target.
Healthy advance orders suggest there is room for growth at the top of the automotive market.
The stakes in this sector are high because the manufacturers have invested heavily. "It's a $1 billion bet," says Bentley marketing chief Adrian Hallmark.
So far, it looks like that bet is paying off. One-thousand Maybach customers have each deposited 50,000 euros, or $53,428 at current exchange rates, to order the car, and Mercedes-Benz has begun taking orders for 2004.
"The car has been accepted very, very well," says Leon Hustinx, Maybach's director of marketing and sales.
So far, about 30 percent of the car's purchasers have ordered the long-wheelbase limousine version, dubbed the 62. In the long run, Hustinx expects orders to be split evenly between the 62 and the shorter 57. Mercedes will start delivering vehicles to customers in May.
Meanwhile, Bentley dealers have taken 3,000 deposits for the new Continental GT, says Mark Tennant, director of product strategy for Bentley Motors in Crewe, England. Bentley will start delivering cars in the fourth quarter.
Among the three new superluxury cars, only the Rolls-Royce Phantom is available now. Rolls expects to produce about 1,000 Phantoms a year. But the automaker declined to divulge the number of orders it has received.
"I'd prefer not to get into a public contest over who's sold out the first year," says Howard Mosher, sales and marketing director for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Chichester, England. "We intend to be market driven. We'll produce what the market wants. At the moment, we're on plan."