Cars: The Bugatti Chiron is coming to the US, but who is buying it?

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 17, 2017.

There will be only 500 of them ever made. Photos by Bloomberg

It will go zero to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds. Or less, if you’ve got a tailwind.

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Bugatti introduced its US$2.99 million (RM12.79 million) Chiron supercar in Geneva last year, but it won’t be until next month that Volkswagen’s (VW) crown jewel brings the fastest car in the world to American shores.

And while half of the 500 total Chirons to be made are already spoken for, there are some still available. (According to Manuela Hohne, the head of communications for Bugatti, half of that 250 were bought sight unseen. Think about that: US$2.99 million on a car you haven’t test-driven or even laid eyes on in real life.)

“When those buyers finally came to Portugal to drive it, some said, ‘Oh wow, I want to have this car for my collection, but now I’ve driven it, I want another one,’” explained Hohne. “They want the second one to drive — one to keep in the collection, and one to drive.”

This is the difference between people who buy Bugattis and, say, those who acquire that other VW superstar, the half-million-dollar Lamborghini Aventador S. An average Bugatti customer has 42 cars at home, Hohne said. She declined to specify their average age.

 

Popular in Europe, not China

There’s a small chance a Bugatti buyer is as young as a Rolls-Royce’s buyer, who has recently been revealed to be 45 years old, a stunningly low average for a luxury car brand — helped no doubt by the relative youth of buyers in China, where Rolls-Royce sells well.

Bugatti, on the other hand, sells 37% of its wares in Europe, followed by 30% in the US and 26% in the Middle East. As for Asia, buyers in Japan are more enamoured with the French company’s craftsmanship and power than they are in China.

“Bugatti does have Chinese buyers — but they purchase the cars for their homes in Europe and the Middle East,” Hohne said.

 

Attracting new buyers

Half the current owner list, she added, are new to the brand altogether. Apparently in previous years, many potential consumers of means had found the bulbous Veyron — the Chiron’s predecessor — too bulky for their liking. Bugatti designed this new car with an appeal for newcomers in mind.

There are indeed some notable new diversions in Chiron. I drove a sky-blue and Navy two-tone version of the 1,500-horsepower supercar yesterday in Greenwich, Connecticut. In addition to the obvious thrill of piloting a car that costs the same as a large home, its immense speed — even at a body weight of more than 6,000 pounds (2,721.55kg) (equal to the stately Rolls-Royce Phantom sedan) — occupies an other-worldly stratosphere. It can hit 120mph (193.12kph) in as short a distance as a basic highway on-ramp. Not that I would know.

Also new: The Bugatti badge on the front is hewn from solid sliver (“The only thing in the car allowed to be heavy,” Hohne says) and three-dimensional, where the previous badge was simply a plated logo imprint. There’s increased luggage room in the still-small trunk and novel space for two garment bags inside the cabin. A new rounded-square steering wheel allows the driver to control all essential functions for driving the car, including starting it, without removing his hands. (The round dials through the centre console still control tertiary comforts such as the heated seats and the air conditioning.)

While the Bugatti-signature, upright, horseshoe-shaped grille flanks the direct front of the car, the two rows of four square headlights on either side of the face are totally new, as is the 40mm wider stance of the car. The lights come newly integrated with vents that suck in and funnel fresh air over the brakes and engine at the rear. “Cool air in, hot air out,” goes every engineer’s mantra.

Concerning that output is the rear end of the automobile, which is so abrupt that it looks sawed off. After all, what better way to release massive amounts of hot air quickly than to lop off the whole back end so its entire span can act as an exit? The new rear air brake deploys automatically and stays erect most of the time, unless you’re starting the car cold. It’s accented with the new, long, single-beam tail light that Bugatti cognoscenti call “the Kiss Goodbye light”. It’s so-named for the benefit of the masses who will have only the briefest encounter with Chiron: They’ll have one quick moment of recognition, thanks to that tail light, from behind the car before it speeds away.

It will go zero to 60mph in 2.5 seconds. Or less, if you’ve got a tailwind.

The new analogue backlit interior dial behind the steering wheel is another nod to the Bugatti fan base. Instead of making it purely LED-lit, the company chose to keep it analogue so that even with all electronics shut off, those peering through the windows can see and admire its impressive craftsmanship.

“It’s like the beauty of a mechanical watch — we did it to keep fans entertained,” Hohne said with a smile.

With any luck, it’ll also keep all those early buyers entertained while they wait for their own car. — Bloomberg