Friday, November 23, 2007

Bugatti Veyron Sales

Bugatti Veyron

In terms of sheer speed, power and history-making levels of engineering excess, the Bugatti Veyron is a success. Bugatti's parent, Volkswagen, set out to build the fastest production car in the world, and it did. There is a photograph of it right there in the 2007 edition of "The Guinness Book of World Records," under the heading of Fastest Production Car.

But here is the problem with setting out to conquer a superlative: There is always someone lurking around the corner, drawing a target on your back. And once the bar is moved, you're a historical footnote. (Sure enough, on Oct. 9, Shelby SuperCars posted on its Web site that Guinness had certified its Ultimate Aero as the new titleholder.)

That might be why, despite a total run of only 300 cars, half of the Bugatti Veyrons scheduled for production are still unsold.

Price might be a factor, too. The Veyron retails for about $1.4 million, although sometimes the price is quoted at $1.3 million or $1.5 million, depending on the exchange rate.

As bad as this may make you feel about your own financial situation, the world has plenty of big-money car nuts with $1 million-plus to spend on a Veyron. But so far, despite fawning reviews, the market has given the car a lukewarm reception.

The problem could be that the world's most expensive car comes from the people's car company, and that the Veyron is ultimately the VW Phaeton of the supercar stage: Its engineering is beyond reproach, but its origins do not satisfy the brand snobs who have the money to buy one.

Bugatti, along with Maybach and Spyker, seems to believe that there is no statute of limitations on the brand appeal of automakers that had their glory days before World War II. Hoping that buyers will embrace a supercar because it wears a once-glorious badge is like hoping people will assume your son is a great tennis player because you named him Rod Laver.

One wonders why, since VW already owns Bentley, the Veyron does not simply wear the Flying B. What would be so wrong if the world's fastest car were a Bentley - and might it have sold better that way?

Time will tell whether the Bugatti Veyron is as successful with collectors as it is at decimating speed records. What is undebatable right now is that the select few who own (or lease) a Veyron hold the keys to the world's greatest automotive thrill ride.

Depending on your prior exposure to big-horsepower cars, the initial second of acceleration might not seem out of the ordinary - even with all-wheel-drive, a car has only so much traction off the line, and a Porsche 911 Turbo can spin all four tires out of the gate, too.

But quickly, almost too quickly for the brain to process, the Veyron speeds straight out of your frame of reference. Once the Veyron is hooked up and putting its 1,001 horsepower to the ground, there's no comparison that will help you understand it, unless you're a fighter pilot or a circus clown with extensive cannon experience.

When you floor the throttle of the Veyron on the highway, the sensation is as if every other driver slammed on the brakes. Except they didn't. They are still cruising at highway speed, but you are blurring the space between the guardrails like an antiproton in a particle collider.

In most cars, you expect a reduction in acceleration as you move up through the gears - longer gear ratios and aerodynamic drag eventually trump horsepower. But the Veyron is different. First gear is quick and violent. Second gear takes slightly longer but seems equally violent. By third gear, you're worried about your driver's license and your life, and the thrust shows no sign of relenting.

Mission control, something is wrong. The booster rockets don't seem to be dropping off.

So you hit the brakes and discover that they're excellent, but they are of the realm of mortal cars, unlike the motor. Thanks to active aerodynamics and the wonders of downforce, at higher speeds the Veyron's stopping and cornering power begin to approach the standard set by its go-power.

But by higher speeds, I definitely mean faster than I cared to drive in suburban Connecticut. For example, if you hit the brakes and look in the rearview mirror to see the spoiler extended high and angled down in air-brake mode, you had better hope there are no police officers nearby, because that trick does not come out of the bag unless you are going at least 130 miles, or 210 kilometers, an hour - just over half of top speed.

I was informed of this by none other than Pierre-Henri Raphanel, a Bugatti test driver, who was riding shotgun at the time. Raphanel, a former race-car driver, knows as much about this car as just about anyone; he also knows what a monumental headache it was to make the Veyron a reality.

The Michelin tires had to be developed specifically for this car. Engineers faced endless setbacks in dissipating the volcanic heat of the motor, which sits naked behind the passenger compartment, a W16 al fresco. The optics of the windshield require such perfection that for every 100 windshields produced, only 5 are usable.

The gist of Raphanel's spiel is that cranking out 1,001 horsepower is just the first of many challenges in building an automobile with a top speed of 253 miles an hour. In fact, even attempting such a thing is ambitious bordering on crazy.

"Ferrari would never build a car like this," he said. "They simply don't need to. They could give a car 700 horsepower and sell out a production run of 400. So why bother going to all the trouble to make it 1,000 horsepower?

"Nobody else will ever make a car like this again. This will be the high point for cars powered by an internal combustion engine."

Maybe so, but you know that at some car company, somewhere, there is a chalkboard emblazoned with a new target: 254 miles an hour. Already, you can walk into Exotic Cars at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and put your money down on a Koenigsegg CCX, which has a claimed top speed of 245-plus miles an hour. Then there is the Aero.

Bugatti has sold 150 Veyrons because the car held the record for the world's fastest production automobile. And it has not sold the other 150 because records are made to be broken.
Source: iht

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