“Never follow the crowd.”
– Bernard Baruch
In a world where everything from the coffee you drink to the news you read is now a deeply personal choice, it was inevitable that auto makers would give you the chance to personalize your luxury car down to the smallest detail. And why not?
For years, critics have complained that modern rides look alike. Country club valets scratch their heads among a sea of standard-issue luxury sedans that can only be told apart with the press of a key fob. Well-heeled trendsetters yearn to satisfy a craving for self-expression in their automobiles, just as they’ve done in other facets of life.
“Luxury is no longer just about high quality, performance and design, but is evolving towards the search for exclusivity, which is expressed by means of customization,” says Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali.
Manufacturers Happy to Oblige
And the manufacturers are happy to oblige. Rolls-Royce sits at the pinnacle with its Bespoke and Black Label customization programs, as does Bentley’s Mulliner. They’ll design a car that’s fit for a maharajah or a hip hop mogul. Imagine a hand painted silk headliner, a custom fly-fishing compartment or even a unique gemstone or clock set in a dashboard fashioned of the rarest woods.
The market broadens with the Exclusive programs from Audi and Porsche, Individual from BMW, Designo from Mercedes-Benz, and SVR from Jaguar Land Rover. All will attempt to satisfy your every desire with the finest custom paints, leathers and interior finishes not found on standard models. “We have had everything from matching the label color of a customer’s favorite single malt to matching a lipstick color,” says Audi of America’s Mark Dahncke. “We have seen it all.”
5% Use BMW's Individual Program
General Sales Manager Gabe Haim at Rallye BMW in Roslyn, New York says about five percent of customers use its Individual program. “The paint process is a much more in-depth paint process,” he says. “The leather is a much higher-quality leather. They’re gorgeous.” Special-order buyers can even ask for their BMWs in colors from other manufacturers, such as Audi’s Nardo Grey, Ferrari’s Rosso Corsa and Lamborghini’s Grigio Telesto.
Bespoke offerings from supercar makers include Ferrari’s Atelier, Tailor-Made and One-Off, as well as Aston Martin’s Q and Lamborghini’s Ad Personam. Choose a Lambo and you’ll whisk yourself to the company’s headquarters in Sant’Agata Bolognese, near the epicenter of sexy Italian sports cars and fine cuisine. After a factory tour, you’ll sit with studio designers to scope out your new Aventador or Huracán and perhaps some matching luggage or apparel.
Americans Put Toe in the Water
Personalization is still a toe-in-the-water affair for American brands. Lincoln’s Black Label helps you choose from several design packages after an in-home consultation on tastes and preferences. Cadillac offers individual, “off-the-menu” touches, such as factory-sanctioned sport exhaust systems or special blacked-out trim, wheels and grilles. “Maybe 10 to 15 percent of our customers ask for this, and that would be mostly on our flagship, which is the Escalade,” says Anthony Ciuffo, General Manager of North Bay Cadillac Buick GMC in Great Neck, New York. But he cautions few of his buyers would wait extra weeks for anything more.
Owners would often wait months or more for their cars back in the first golden age of customization in the early 20th century. The wealthy and the Hollywood elite shipped factory engines and chassis to custom coachbuilders in the U.S. or Europe, where skilled artisans crafted elegant bodies and interiors. The practice declined sharply in the Great Depression as Americans downplayed their wealth and designers either retreated or went belly-up.
Customizers Roaring Back
Today, top-end customizers are roaring back, this time in factory guise. All you have to do is walk through the showroom doors and describe the car that is truly you. For dealers and designers alike, your wish is their command.
This column first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Luxury Living magazine. View the published column here.