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Land of luxury: High-end car sales booming in N.J.

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Kevin J. Flanagan, president of Aston Martin Summit, will begin selling cars such as the Aston Martin Vanquish out of his dealership later this month.
Kevin J. Flanagan, president of Aston Martin Summit, will begin selling cars such as the Aston Martin Vanquish out of his dealership later this month. - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

If you're one of those people who take stock of your life whenever you're next to a fancy sports car — and usually don't like what you see — we've got some bad news:

You're in for a tough summer.

Exotic, luxury car ownership is making a comeback, and according to Jim Appleton — president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers and current chairman of the Automotive Trade Association Executives — there's no better place to capitalize on it than in the Garden State.

“New Jersey is exactly the kind of place these dealerships should locate,” Appleton said. “We have one of the nation's strongest car markets, especially for high-end vehicles, because New Jersey is one of the top average income states in the nation.

“If not here, where?”

In May, Maserati opened a dealership in the Whippany section of Hanover. Later this month, Aston Martin will open its newest U.S. appointment in Summit.

The reason is simple:

“There's money in Morris County,” said Joe Ripolino, general sales manager at Maserati of Morris County, where 80 percent of its buyers are Morris County residents.

The same holds true for Summit, which is in the heart of some of the wealthiest towns in the country.

“We also have proximity to a real wealth base in Chatham, New Vernon, Mendham, Bernardsville, Madison and Westfield,” said Kevin Flanagan, president of Aston Martin Summit.

“With brands of this nature, you have to have clientele that can afford it. To purchase and experience and own one is what makes these cars what they are — pieces of art you can drive around.”

But while it makes sense for luxury dealerships to be in high-income towns, that's not always the case.

“Dealership locations are dictated more by local zoning and availability of suitable auto retail and service facilities,” Appleton said. “Not surprisingly, many towns full of prospective exotic car owners don't provide for dealerships in their zoning ordinances.”

This means that although Maserati's Morris County location already is outselling other established Maserati dealers in its second month of business, Maserati is smart to be selling in Edison and Palmyra, too.

Ripolino said Maserati sold 3,600 cars nationwide last year — and is hoping to increase its sales to 50,000 in the U.S. this year.

Maserati, which has its North American headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, is trying to go mainstream and be as ubiquitous as a BMW.

Price point is still an issue. The cheapest model starts at roughly $66,000, but $80,000 is a more realistic starting point.

So far, Maserati is doing well: 171 were registered in New Jersey between Jan. 1 to the end of April, according to the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. That compares to just 56 during the same time last year, a more than 200 percent increase.

Aston Martin registered just 10 cars the first four months, but that's compared to just two during the same time last year. And more are coming.

Though Aston Martin Summit's showroom doesn't open until this week, Flanagan said it already has received a private order and has four other interested buyers.

With the base price for its cheapest model, the Vantage GT, being $99,500, one has to wonder: Is New Jersey really in such bad economic shape?

“The economy is returning, particularly the Wall Street economy, which we are a bedroom community of,” Flanagan said.

Before you cry Wolf of Wall Street just yet, consider this:

“Car sales are up across the board and a higher tide floats all boats, including luxury and exotic brands,” Appleton said.

Still — with the most common car in New Jersey being the Honda Accord — it's not likely fellow residents will be fond of the increased reminders of their struggle to get rich, too.

So the next time you see a shiny new car out of the corner of your eye, you may be better off keeping your eyes on the road.

LEASING THE LIFE

If your boss, neighbor, rival or — dare we say it — your ex tells you they just bought a Maserati, odds are they’re lying.

According to Joe Ripolino, general sales manager at Maserati of Morris County, 80 percent of Maserati “owners” are actually leasing.

“A lot of these are third and fourth cars and are not frequently used for transportation,” Ripolino said.

Same goes for Aston Martin, though the odds are slightly more difficult to prove.

Kevin Flanagan, president of Aston Martin Summit, said 50 to 60 percent of Aston Martin consumers typically lease the vehicles, with the remainder more likely to pay in full.

 

Top luxury cars registered in New Jersey in 2013

Manufacturer: Tesla
Least expensive model:Model S
Base price: $69,900
Registered vehicles: 625
Tidbit: Despite the fact they have been difficult to purchase.

Manufacturer: Maserati
Least expensive model: Ghibli
Base price: $66,900
Registered vehicles: 212
Tidbit: The push is on in 2014 with an increase in production

Manufacturer: Bentley
Least expensive model: Continental GT
Base price: $177,500
Registered vehicles: 104
Tidbit: Sales are slightly down so it must be a "buyer's market."

Manufacturer: Ferrari
Least expensive model: California
Base price: $192,000
Registered vehicles: 83
Tidbit: It's the most readily recognizable "luxury" vehicle.

Manufacturer: Rolls Royce
Least expensive model: Ghost
Base price: $265,000
Registered vehicles: 38
Tidbit: Commonly seen in movies and videos, not driveways.

 

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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