The correct club
Bugatti is good for Volkswagen, even though by some estimates each Veyron that's made and sold winds up being a loss of multiple millions of euros. When people spend $200,000 on a Ferrari California T, they're tapping into the elite aura that's emitted by the $2.1 million Ferrari FXX. (There are only 30 of those, whereas thousands of Californias are made every year.)
Every time a brand's race car wins a Formula 1 event, or a newly unveiled concept vehicle shows off a brand's ability to harness power and technology, the everyday drivers of the lower-tier cars get to feel like they're part of the correct club.
Finally, some automakers don't want to persuade a broader market to buy their cars. Ultra-niche supercar companies such as Koenigsegg, Zenvo, and the aforementioned Lykan make limited runs of cars whose price tags can soar into the multimillions.
They're selling only to the uber-rich, and in those cases the exclusivity is a big part of the draw: You can't drive these cars except on a track, but that's OK, because no one else can drive them at all. These efforts are often a gamble and high risk, and not always high rewards.
Zenvo, in Denmark, will make only 15 of its $952,000 ST1 supercars. They're betting that the top speed of 233 mph and 1,104 horsepower will help them sell through the line, at which point the owners estimate they'll break even. But before the Geneva Motor Show this year, the company had delivered only two and received orders for five more. Then it'll be a few years before Zenvo can roll a new model off the production floor in a time period when bigger automakers can accomplish all kinds of feats.
Demonic manta rays
New York-based Lyons, the only American supercar maker, is pinning its hopes on a 1,700-horsepower stealth bomb called the LM2 Streamliner. In theory, at least, the car will have a twin-turbo V8 with 1,610 pounds-feet of torque, all put on a seven-speed gearbox.
It looks like a cross between a demonic manta ray and a hooded slug. Talk about a niche audience. And the thing wasn't even finished by the press previews of the New York auto show this month, where it was supposed to premiere.
It's important to remember that a high price doesn't mean you can have it all. You can probably get speed or strength or comfort in such an expensive car, but not all three. To wit: The Lykan is fast, but its engine contains only six cylinders -- ”the same number as pretty much every mass-made sedan on the road today. (Admittedly, the Lykan is the exception to the rule: Most million-dollar cars have 10, 12, or 16 cylinders.)
Or take the million-dollar armored Mercedes-Maybach Pullman, which requires more than five seconds to hit 60 mph. Don't buy it to win any drag races. Or consider the $2 million Pagani Zonda, which has a certain flair but has endured persistent criticisms about its high maintenance costs and propensity to break down under even the slightest inclement conditions.
"Exotic cars are fairly unpractical," says Cars.com's Mays, in the understatement of the week. "You need a whole garage of things to drive when you own one of these things that are a bit more rugged. With something like a Pagani, you need real roads and, ultimately, racetracks to stretch its legs."
Of course, if you're wealthy enough to afford something like the Pagani, you're wealthy enough to afford the racetrack that goes with it.