Living the high life: the rise of luxury-lifestyle carmakers

As Aston Martin officially launches its retail outlet in Avenue at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi, we look at the ascent of carmakers as luxury-lifestyle brands.
The new Aston Martin retail outlet in Avenue at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. As well as a range of branded accessories, the outlet offers customers a more relaxed space in which to buy a car. Courtesy Aston Martin
The new Aston Martin retail outlet in Avenue at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. As well as a range of branded accessories, the outlet offers customers a more relaxed space in which to buy a car. Courtesy Aston Martin

Much as football clubs nowadays have a cultural scope far beyond fans simply rocking up on a Saturday afternoon to watch a match – from replica-shirt sales to ceaseless cross-brand pollination – carmakers have long valued merchandise arms alongside sales of actual cars. But many high-end companies are increasingly formulating far grander aims than flogging a few branded cufflinks and baseball caps. Luxury automotive legends are fast becoming luxury-lifestyle brands beyond their (multi)million-dirham four-wheeled wares.

Anybody who has taken a stroll through the “boutique lifestyle destination” Avenue at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi in recent weeks, will have spotted something slightly racier than the usual displays of Rolex watches, Cartier jewellery and Versace clothing. After a “soft opening” period this summer, the storied British carmaker Aston Martin’s new retail outlet has officially opened this month, its first in the Middle East. With a DB9 and V8 Vantage flanking the storefront – a DB11 is due to update this display in the next couple of weeks – it’s a striking sight, even in a country where luxury shopping is so omnipresent that it has almost become passé.

After celebrating its centenary three years ago, the Warwickshire-headquartered company is currently globally implementing its “second-century” plan, which includes the launch of the aforementioned DB11. In the UAE, it’s hoping to usher in a new era in terms of how buyers purchase its cars, as an alternative to the sometimes-intimidating experience of entering a showroom, while allowing them to “live” the brand. Customers can go through the usual process of selecting finishes and paint jobs for their new car from a range of swatches in the shop, as well as taking test drives – Aston has cars waiting in Etihad Towers’ parking area.

In tandem, there’s also a range of branded products on sale, from specialist owners’ kit (battery conditioners at Dh2,461 each) to a variety of clothing and weekend luggage (Dh2,000 and more per bag) that allows aspirational buyers to get a foot on the Aston ladder without investing in a car.

“Most people come into a showroom and think to themselves: ‘Oh, they’re going to take as much of my money as possible.’ That’s actually not what is happening here,” says George Duncan, Aston Martin UAE’s managing director. “When customers come to a showroom, we notice a tenseness in them. The retail unit is much more relaxing. We find that they’ll come back more frequently here – even when they’ve purchased a car, they’ll come back and look at the branded goods.

“I was talking to one customer yesterday, and they want to live the lifestyle. They want to buy the polish that is specific to that brand. They want to be seen in the T-shirt at the weekend. So it incorporates all of the lifestyle.”

Another iconic British brand, Bentley, has taken that approach a stage further. Its first SUV, the Bentayga, which debuted earlier this year, can be ordered with a Mulliner picnic hamper set that will set you back a cool Dh110,000, inspired by Bentley’s long association with polo events. Other recent sporting link-ups include high-quality golf clubs in collaboration with a Japanese samurai-­sword forger and fly-fishing equipment by Mulliner. The National recently reviewed the Dh57,000 Vertu Signature Touch for Bentley smartphone, while the carmaker also sells full-scale furniture with Bentley Home.

“Bentley is a brand that’s always been synonymous with bespoke handcrafted products,” its regional director for ­Middle East and Asia Pacific, Stephen Reynolds, says. “A number of our customers over the years have asked us whether we could help them in other walks of their life. They have said: ‘I’d really like to be able to take some of the design cues and these principles through to my home.’”

Bentley Cafe in Dubai Marina also provides a physical, non-showroom base for the brand’s desirable merchandise ranges, from Dh7,700 clocks and Dh19,500 fountain pens to Dh21,000 bags and Dh35,000 sunglasses.

“Some people may find their way into the brand in the future through some of these lifestyle products and then move on to buying a car later,” Reynolds says. “It can work both ways.”

It’s arguably Bugatti, however, that has taken the all-inclusive model into the stratosphere. Announced at the ­Cityscape Global property show last year, the forthcoming Bugatti-themed Ettore 971 villas at Damac’s Akoya ­Oxygen development on Umm Suqeim Road in Dubai, which are currently at the development stage, go beyond almost any level of luxury-lifestyle integration seen before from any carmaker. The chief design wow is a glass-panelled garage to allow owners to see their parked Bugattis from their living rooms. The villas will also be fitted with furniture from the ­Bugatti Home ­Collection, launched at this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, and inspired by celebrated furniture-maker Carlo Bugatti, father of Bugatti founder ­Ettore.

“In all our brand extensions with Bugatti, the success of the car is the starting point. The key point is the authenticity,” says Massimiliano Ferrari, managing director of Bugatti’s branded goods.

“We are targeting owners, and aspirational owners, but always sophisticated people that like art and special design. You bring your car into your living room like a piece of art. In the lines of the villas, in a subliminal way, you will find the curves and organic shapes of the Bugatti DNA.”

With both Bugatti and Aston Martin now also moving into branded yachts in partnership with nautical companies, the days when luxury carmakers were purely about their automotive output are fading fast.

“A lot of prestige brands are going down this avenue now,” Duncan says. “Who would have ever have thought 10 years ago that you would have got cars into a mall?”

We should probably all get used to it.

Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM


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