Bugatti is one of the most storied names in the automotive universe. Even though the century-old brand has not always had the smoothest ride financially, the company is now thriving under Volkswagen Group ownership. Leading the venerable marque these days is company president Stephan Winkelmann.
The long-time auto executive took over the top job at Bugatti in January after a couple of years in charge of Audi Sport. Before that, Winkelmann spent a decade as CEO of Lamborghini.
Business Insider had the chance to sit down with Winkelman at the 2018 New York Auto Show. Our conversation touched upon several topics including the intricacies of running a luxury automaker and the demographics of Bugatti’s clientele.
The Chiron is sold out for a while
Bugatti operates in rarefied air. Its latest model, the Chiron, retails with a starting price tag of around $3 million. Launched in 2016, the company expects to build 500 Chirons over the next decade. Just two years in, roughly 300 of the cars are already spoken for.
“We are sold out until the second half of 2021,” Winkelmann told us. “The cars will be easily sold out and we are going to get requests to build more — even if 500 is going to be the maximum.”
Bugatti is a car for the self-made man
This led us to our next topic of conversation — Who are these people that would spend $3 million on a car?
According to the Winkelmann, the company’s clientele does indeed have a “predominant demographic.”
“They are usually male, self-made men,” the German auto executive said. “Geographically, they are (generally) from North America, Europe, Middle East, and Japan.”
Even more interesting are the other big ticket items Bugatti owners tend to own.
“They usually have a collection of about 30 cars in their household,” Winkelmann told us. “They also have ships, houses, and private planes.”
“These are people which are enjoying life and they are very conscious of why they are purchasing a car like this,” he added.
According to Winkelmann, his customers, who tend to be very successful in business, possess a well-honed instinct for finding value in a purchase.
For Bugatti’s head honcho, buying one of his cars means you are getting your hands on something that is truly unique. The Chiron possess effortless luxury and timeless beauty that’s wrapped up in a package with hypercar performance, Winkelmann said.
Top speed is not Bugatti’s top priority
For many, Bugatti’s claim to fame is its cars’ ability to deliver out and out speed. However, Bugatti has yet to put the Chiron through a top speed run. And according to Winkelman, it doesn’t look like the company is in any rush to do so.
“Today we are limiting ourselves to 261 mph so we don’t even know how fast the car can go,” he said.
But for Bugatti, the priority these days is given to the development of the Chiron in terms of its ability to deliver in multiple facets of the ownership experience and not just going fast in a straight line. With that said, 261 mph is still insanely fast.
The lessons learned from Lamborghini
There are few executives around with more experience in running ultra-premium luxury and performance brands than Winkelman. And his time at Lamborghini and Audi Sport has taught him that this is not an easy business to be in.
“The luxury business is a tough job because you have high investment and limited volume,” he said.
Winkelman believes success in the luxury space is driven by brand building as much as it is by the product itself.
And he sees some similarities between Bugatti and Lamborghini both conceptually and in terms of heritage.
“It’s about doing the right thing for the brand,” Winkelmann said. “When I started at Lamborghini, it was a brand which needed a lot of attention and they also had products which were ‘worth it’ in my opinion.”
In that sense, Bugatti also has products which are “worth it”, but unlike Lamborghini of decades past, the brand is in a much better place.