Supercars may be quick but sales overall are moving at a somewhat slower pace in the Arabian Gulf. McLaren, though, is bucking the trend, outpacing peers such as Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche.
Drivers from the region have earned a reputation for having an appetite for fast cars, partly thanks to the summer “supercar season” in London, in which wealthy tourists from the Gulf parade their motors around the UK capital.
But the reality is that, while supercar sales are increasing globally, estimates show that they have plummeted by one third in the Gulf since 2013.
IHS Automotive, which tracks motor sales, forecasts that just 707 of the world’s most expensive sports cars will be sold in the six GCC countries, plus Iran, this year. That compares with a high of 1,058 in 2013.
Conversely, global sales of the world’s most expensive sports cars rose from 13,446 in 2013 to a forecast 13,590 this year.
The numbers relate to sports cars valued at £150,000 (Dh723,000) and more, and so represent the pinnacle of the market. The category includes the likes of the Aston Martin DB9, Lamborghini Huracán and McLaren 675LT Super Series, as well as super-expensive models such as the Ferrari LaFerrari at £1.1 million (Dh5.31m) and Porsche 918 Spyder at £712,000.
But it does not include some of the cheaper McLaren cars such as the 540C, at £125,000, 4x4s, or high-end saloons such as the Rolls-Royce.
For McLaren, the regional trend is considerably different. In the Middle East and Africa, it reported a 69 per cent increase in unit sales in the first half of 2016.
The Bahrain-backed McLaren Automotive last week reported 2015 operating profits of £23.5m, a 13.5 per cent increase from 2014, from revenues of £450.6m, which were 5.2 per cent lower. It projects revenues will increase by 50 per cent over the next two years and double by the end of 2022.
The company spent £123.9m on research and development in 2015, when it added five new cars to its range and established its three product tiers, namely the Sports, Super and Ultimate Series. Under its Track22 Business Plan, leading through to 2022, the company plans to invest £1 billion as part of its aim to launch 15 new cars or derivatives.
In markets such as the UAE, there are some distinctions McLaren sees from those in Europe and North America. These include a higher number of requests for customisations – options such as carbon-fibre additions, special stitching or bespoke colours – says Andreas Bareis, the managing director of McLaren Automotive in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
Ian Fletcher, a principal analyst at IHS Automotive in London, attributes the overall drop in supercar sales in the Gulf primarily to the crash in oil prices.
But he says the regional market remains “huge” for supercar manufacturers, and expects an upswing in sales in the wider Middle East and Africa region in the years to come. “From a low in 2016 it will start to climb again towards the end of the decade,” he says.
Global supercar sales are cyclical, depending on both economic conditions and the manufacturing patterns of the handful of car makers in the category, Mr Fletcher says.
“When Ferrari launches the new 448, for example, they’ll be an uptick in interest.”
But supercar manufacturers are “trying to smooth out these curves in demand” by bringing out staggered model variants such as fixed-roof coupés, “spyders” – or open top roadsters – and track-orientated ultra performance models, Mr Fletcher says.
Winning brands include McLaren Automotive, based in the United Kingdom, which is looking to build about 3,000 cars this year – almost double the 1,654 it sold last year.
Others include Lamborghini, which this month said it had set a new global sales record, having delivered 2,013 cars in the first six months of 2016.
Mr Fletcher says that was due to the huge success of the Lamborghini Huracán and broader factors such as supercars becoming more reliable and practical and – surprisingly, perhaps – the availability of credit facilities to finance their purchase.
“If you could get [a Lamborghini] to start back in the 1970s and 1980s, you were having a good day. Nowadays you can … even do the shopping in it if you really want to,” says Mr Fletcher.
“There’s a lot more [buyers] – especially with the ability to get credit for these vehicles.”
Global supercar sales are expected to continue rising over the next few years, although that will depend on model cycles as well as economic factors such as the situation in China and fallout from the UK ‘Brexit’ vote, Mr Fletcher adds.
“If there’s a little bit of a depression or recession somewhere they’ll tend to take a little bit of a dip, as people look at their expenditure and decide perhaps that buying a supercar – which is quite a frivolous purchase – is not a necessity,” he says.
“They are almost like the canaries in the mine with regards to the global economy.”