PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- As Sandra Button, chairwoman of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, begins the annual classic automobile event's tour through the winding roads of this resort community south of San Francisco, she points to Mercedes-Benz cars glistening in and around a temporary glass building that looks like a piece of jewelry on the famous golf course's third fairway.
"It's stunning, their showroom," she said early Thursday. Then she notes that Maserati built stone-like walls at its temporary display for this weekend's event, which ends with the car show on Aug. 17 that, according to organizers, attracts 15,000 people to view about 200 cars including Ferrari Testarossas and Rolls-Royce Phantoms.
Global automakers' participation in the activities has surged in recent years, she said. Event organizers said that 22 concept and production cars were unveiled at last year's event.
"We've had sponsorships for almost 20 years, but they seem to be using this more and more as they do for big motor shows," Button said. "A lot of cars get sold this weekend."
Interest in the classic-car events at Pebble Beach reflects the increasing number of automakers fighting for a piece of the luxury new-vehicle market. High-end sales, fueled both by more mass-market brands offering upscale vehicles and more premium marques offering cheaper choices, have outpaced the U.S. auto industry's growth since 2012, according to Edmunds.com, a Web site that tracks auto sales.
"They're catering to the 1 percent," Mark Takahashi, who reviews cars for Edmunds, said of the automakers at the Councours. "It may help some on an aspirational level -- raising a brand's positioning."
The six days of events is primarily about classic cars with a parade Thursday, auctions of vintage models and this weekend's Concours classic-car contests.
A Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta sold for a record $38.1 million Thursday at Bonhams's auction in Carmel.
Sprinkled among the events are displays by automakers of all price points.
It's no surprise to see an elite brand such as Bentley, which rented a 4,000 square-foot mansion in Pebble Beach where customers can mingle while they pick out interior and exterior accessories from among the 1.3 billion combinations available on the $303,700 Mulsanne.
Now volume brands are there, too, such as Kia, which set up a roadside tent offering test drives of its new K900 sedan that starts at $59,500 as well as cold drinks and a place to sit.