SA’s Supercar Economy

By: Simona Levet & Jessica Hubbard

It is a symphony of style and performance. With a distinctive silhouette that exudes power in every passionately handcrafted inch, it prowls the tarmac, declaring: “I have arrived” with every visceral growl of its engine. This is the Supercar – for many, it is a childhood dream, yet reserved by its hefty price tag for the exclusive few.

Unlike many other ‘luxury’ items, there are precious few numbers to indicate just how exclusive supercar ownership is in South Africa. Most of the local dealerships are reluctant to reveal their sales numbers, but all are adamant that demand is strong. But first, let’s take a step back. What exactly is a supercar?  After discussions with many of SA’s motoring gurus, Finweek deduced that this is a rather contentious issue, and that there is no precise definition of a supercar. One Ferrari enthusiast defined a supercar as being ‘impractical, completely ridiculous and makes no sense.’ The folks over at Bentley, however, would certainly take issue with this, regarding their stately (and practical) vehicles as not only supercars, but as ‘luxury supercars.’  To simplify matters, however, we can all agree that the term is typically applied to exotic or relatively rare cars whose performance is incomparable with other sports and luxury cars. Marques such as Ferrari, Porsche, McLaren, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Maserati are examples of popular supercars. The fastest car in the world, the Bugatti Veyron, is usually classified as a ‘hyper-car.’ In SA, there are estimated to be around 10 000 supercars on the roads, with Porsches being by far the most common, and Lamborghinis among the most rare. According to Ross Crichton, founder of event company Supercar Lifestyle, there are no more than 200 ‘Lambos’ gracing SA’s potholed roads with their presence. For those who are tasked with importing and selling these feats of auto engineering and design, it is far from the normal ‘retail’ environment. “We don’t want to sell just products, but also emotions,”proclaims Porsche US.  Local ‘Ferraristo’, Sasha Martinengo,  the PR Manager for Viglietti Motors (which has the exclusive sales rights for Ferrari) believes the allure of supercars lies with their air of mystique and tradition. Indeed, this is exemplified by Aston Martin’s slogan “Power, Beauty and Soul”. For Ashok Sewnarain, Chairman of IBV, which recently launched the IBV Supercar Club, it is the car’s ‘sex appeal.’

In SA, we have a longstanding love affair with supercars, and boast the oldest Ferrari Owners’ Club in the world (see sidebar 2). In 1957, Gigi Lupini imported the first Ferrari onto South African soil – a 225 Spider. Ferraris were sold through official channels for the first time in South Africa in 1965. Porsche has been represented in South Africa since 1955, and the Porsche Owners’ Club was established in 1958. Racing legends like Jody Scheckter, who won the 1979 Formula 1 World Championship at the wheel of a Ferrari, and Whitney Straight, who won the first South African Grand Prix in East London driving a Maserati, captured the imagination of the public, and paved the way for the country’s passionate consumption of supercars.

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