Money, quality of life drives South Florida to top in luxury car sales
By Frank Norton
Money, good weather and brand-conscious buyers make South Florida the top pound-for-pound luxury car market in the nation, experts say.
While the region ranks third in total volume of luxury car sales behind metropolitan New York and Los Angeles, it is No. 1 when measured on a per-capita basis, said Erik Day, regional sales and marketing manager for Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover in North America.
"Nobody touches Miami and West Palm when it comes to concentrated purchasing power for these vehicles," he said.
In fact, South Florida drives about 9% of total Jaguar sales in the US, not far behind much larger New York and LA markets that contribute 17% and 13%, respectively.
Land Rover regional sales are comparable, he said.
"If you look at the number of residents versus the number of vehicles sold, Miami and Palm Beach are off the charts," he said, adding the tri-county area sees about 30,000 luxury cars - priced $40,000 and up - transact each year.
So what drives sales in South Florida?
"Status," said Mr. Day and others.
"Think about SUVs, for example. Why would you ever need (a sports utility vehicle) in South Florida? You don't, so it's really about status," he said, referring to Land Rover vehicles. "Being associated with a brand like that allows you to say to the world, 'Look, I've made it.' And the city of Miami in particular is very cognizant of that."
Others like Greg Barnes, general manager of Bill Ussery Motors in Coral Gables, agree that Miami and South Florida car decisions are more image driven than in other major markets.
"Miami has the tendency to wear its wealth on its sleeves and people down here can enjoy that in a luxury car year-round," Mr. Barnes said.
Bill Ussery Motors is the oldest and largest Mercedes dealer in Florida and about the 10th largest in the country in terms of sales, Mr. Barnes said. His dealership saw sales increase more than 6% in 2002, besting Mercedes' national gain of about 2%, he added.
"There are larger luxury car markets," he said, "but this one has got to be the best on a per capita basis do to the concentration of international wealth here."
"It also helps if you find an area with a lot of rich people and good weather so you can show it off all year," said Bernd Heiden from company headquarters in Italy, where he heads US sales for Automobili Lamborghini.
He said the company's South Florida dealer, Prestige Imports in North Miami Beach, is one of only 14 Lamborghini dealers in the country.
"We're not selling transportation, we're selling toys on a very nice level to people with a lot of money. And South Florida is a major market for us, as is LA and New York," Mr. Heiden said, without disclosing what portion of US sales Miami contributes. The Lamborghini Murcielago costs about $285,000 and more than a third of the roughly 400 produced annually are sold in the US.
"South Beach definitely rings a bell for us," Mr. Heiden said.
Although US Census data rank Miami the poorest big city in the US, luxury retailers say it nevertheless attracts more than its share of high net-worth car, home and boat buyers from the US Latin America and Europe.
"Everywhere else you have to work for your money - here they just bring it to you," said one luxury car sales manager who asked not to be identified. Others were less cautious.
"You got that whole scene on South Beach with the money, the nice watches, the jewelry and a lot of folks that like to drive around in a Mercedes S class or Aston Martin," said 20-year-old Carlos Santisteban Jr., managing partner with Miami-based Sanfer Sports Cars, a luxury car reseller. "You got the bling-bling," he said, referring to the combination of wealth and people's desire to express it.