Inside Ferrari's New York design lab where the super rich can customize $500,000 cars

CNBC Automobile 1 month ago

Any average millionaire or billionaire can buy a Ferrari. But only a select group gets the privilege of buying a fully customized one — an honor that is becoming big business for the Italian carmaker.

Ferrari this month opened its third "tailor made center" in the world, a 6,600-square-foot showroom on Manhattan's Park Avenue that allows buyers to fully customize their rides, choosing everything from fabrics and leathers to woods, paint colors and wheels.

While Ferrari has long allowed customers to choose basic features of their cars, the tailor made program takes personalization to a whole new level, adding between 20% to 100% to a car's price.

The higher sticker prices generate fatter profit margins that's helped Ferrari offset a slowdown in sales in the second quarter. The company said "strong positive contribution from its personalization programs" contributed to 10% growth in adjusted operating profit in the quarter. And the tailor made program is expected to continue boosting the bottom line in its third-quarter earnings, scheduled for release next month.

"It's a nice business opportunity," said Enrico Galliera, Ferrari's chief marketing and commercial officer. "But most of all, it's a way to engage clients and keep them happy and coming back again."

Ferrari launched the tailor made program in 2011, with a single design center at its factory in Maranello, Italy. It was meant to harken back to Ferraris in the 1950s, when each one was designed specifically for each customer.

Demand was so high at the original tailor made center — especially among clients from Asia — the company opened a second one in Shanghai in 2014. Now, with a third center in New York, Ferrari has made it even easier for customers to spend six-figures on a personalized sports car.

The Park Avenue showroom looks more like a luxury fashion boutique than a car-design shop. Swatches of buttery leather, spools of brightly-colored threads and samples of suede and denim fill the cabinets. The walls are covered in a rainbow of paint samples, from Bianco Polo white and Griggio Notte grey to the classic Ferrari "Rosso Corsa" red.

Being able to buy a tailor made Ferrari makes you a member of a highly elite club. Ferrari only makes about 200 to 300 tailor made cars a year, out of a total production of 9,200 cars last year. Buyers have to apply for the chance to buy one and having a tailor made Ferrari instantly gives the owner status among collectors — and often a higher resale value.

Ferrari is coy about what qualifications a customer needs to become a tailor made customer. But it probably helps to have purchased several other Ferraris and show devotion to the Prancing Horse.

"There is no specific entry-gate," Galliera said. "Certainly you have to be a client for some time. You have to purchase and collect your car and keep it as a piece of art."

The process of creating a tailor made Ferrari is an exercise in both ego-stroking and engineering. You don't just pick your own paint color — you can create a new one, name it after yourself and have it forever immortalized on Ferrari's gleaming wall of paint color samples. One popular color is "Grigio Ingrid," a warm grey that was created by Italian director Roberto Rossellini to match the eyes of his wife, the famed actress Ingrid Bergman.

Clients chosen for the tailor made Center are given a personal designer to walk them through the process, which can take a half-day or more. There are so many choices that Ferrari helps clients start out with one of three design themes. There is "Scuderia," where the aesthetics are inspired by Ferrari's racing history. There is "Classica," modeled on Ferrari's classic touring cars of the 1950s and 1960s. And there is "Edita," inspired by today's more trendy fashions, fabrics and pop culture.

Clients often come in with pictures of their yacht and ask Ferrari to match the paint color and woods. Or they will model a car after their private-jet or favorite vacation home. They can choose the threads for the seat stitching, the dashboard fabric and even the color of the shift-paddles on the steering wheel. Clients can also get their signature or name on a special tailor made dedication plate between the front seats.

Ferrari acknowledges there are some requests it has to turn down.

"Sometimes we have to say no," Galliera said. "Let's say if the color is pink with cartoons on the bonnet of the car, that's something we don't want to do. We have our design team check every single request and decide whether it's feasible, fitting with our positioning. Every day we have people coming with crazy requests."

For Ferrari, it's worth it. The tailor made process can add hundreds of thousands to the price of a Ferrari, which already deliver fat margins with sticker prices ranging between $215,00 to over $600,000. While the company won't say exactly how much it earns from the program, personalization has become a critical source of profits for super-car companies, as today's super rich seek cars that are truly special or unique.

Aside from a big bank account, the most important requirement to become a tailor made customer is patience. Ferrari said that once the vehicle is approved and "accepted for production" it takes another nine to 12 months for delivery.

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