-- Mountains of economic uncertainty around the world would hardly seem to create the frothy time for automakers to roll out new, mega-expensive sports cars.
Yet the automotive world finds itself awash in the kind of extreme two-seaters that are so quick, light and expensive that they are called supercars. More than a dozen choices, some costing upwards of $2 million, are here and more are on the way to cater to the fickle rich elite who seem largely immune to economic downturns.
"The people who buy these cars buy them because, in the circles in which they mix, they don't want to be seen driving another Ferrari or Bentley," says Angus MacKenzie, editor-in-chief of Motor Trend magazine.
The list keeps growing:
•BMW. To show the potential for electric power, BMW announced it will offer an electric supercar, the i8.
•Porsche. Also a showcase for alternative technology, Porsche's 918 hybrid will be capable of 16 miles of driving on electric power alone, but also can leap from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.1 seconds.
•Mercedes-Benz. After seeing strong initial demand for its gull-winged, 197-mph SLS AMG coupe, Mercedes just announced a roadster version.
•Jaguar. After a concept was well-received last year, Jaguar said in May that it will produce a new $1.1 million turbocharged hybrid two-seater, most likely as a 2015 model. "We wanted to show what the next generation of technology and design can be at the most extreme levels," says Stuart Schorr, Jaguar U.S. spokesman.
In addition to big brand names, there are also niche players. For instance, an Italian maker called Pagani plans a $1.3 million, 725-horsepower supercar within two years. SSC, a Richland, Wash., company expects its new $1.1 million, 1,350-horsepower supercar, the Tuatara, will retake the production-car speed record that the company held for several years with a previous car. It will need to exceed 268 mph.
Customers for these cars don't complain about price. "They were wealthy five years ago. They are wealthy now," says John Hill, sales director for the Americas for Bugatti, Volkwagen's ultraperformance unit. "They're tired of waiting. … They don't want things to pass them buy."
Hill, now taking orders for a $2.1 million Bugatti Grand Sport convertible, says the customer base includes newly minted moguls in emerging nations such as Brazil, China and India.
Bugatti sold seven cars in the U.S. in 2010. This year, it's sold eight.
"We've got a world market" for supercars, says Robert Ross, automotive consultant to the Robb Report, a monthly journal of affluence.
Even among the super-rich, car fanciers stand out. "There is a core group that adores cars," and they have no qualms about creating a stable of supercars, says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute.
While sheer horsepower and 0 to 60 times count, so does style. "It's all about the emotional quotient," MacKenzie says.