New York Auto Show: The Case of the Missing Supercars

Exclusive brands are fleeing auto shows for greener pastures, deeper wallets.

Travel back in Proustian memory to your childhood, and the auto shows you attended, typically in parental tow. What cars filled your waking dreams, made your heart skip, and made you the enthusiast you are today? Chances are, it was some voluptuous, unattainable, obscenely priced exotic. For some people, seeing the new Lamborghini or Aston Martin in the flesh was the only reason to even visit an auto show.

In a sad trend, those ultra-exclusive carmakers are increasingly no-shows at auto shows, preferring to spend and focus their marketing dollars elsewhere. Eight or 80, what’s a car lover to do? Fortunately, a Manhattan dealer of precious metal -- or these days, carbon fiber -- is committed to giving enthusiasts their fix at the New York International Auto Show.

For the 21st year, Manhattan Motorcars corralled a sweet (if somewhat random) herd of new supercars and ultra-luxury models at the Jacob K. Javits Center. Most cars at the show are on pedestals, but these babies actually deserved them: A $2 million Koenigsegg Agera RS, one of just 25 to be be built, with its 1,160-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8. A Bugatti Chiron, the $2.6 million, 1,500-horsepower ignitor of adolescent desire, flown in from the factory in Molsheim, France. A Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible, its snow-white interior practically begging to be sullied by Dorito-dusted fingers. Oddballs like the Spyker C8 Preliator, the Dutch-based, mid-engine sports car; and the Lotus Evora 400: If Britain’s Lotus has used the last of its nine lives, you can tell your grandkids you saw one of their last creations.

Lawrence Ulrich/TheDrive.com

Considering our catbird seat at The Drive, we were fortunate to have Lamborghini bring the show to us: We hoisted the Huracan Performante up into our combination showroom, studio and playhouse, where the Nürburgring record-setter make a fine backdrop for my video interview with Lambo’s Chief Operating Officer Alessandro Farmeschi. But the hundreds of thousands of people who will attend America’s oldest auto show won’t see the latest Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Astons, McLarens, Rolls-Royces or Bentleys, aside from the Rolls Dawn and Bentley Bentayga at Manhattan Motorcars’ display.

Michael Sexton, general sales manager at Manhattan Motorcars, said that exclusive brands now prefer to hold special events away from show convention centers, where they can wine and dine customers and prospects while giving them up-close looks at their wares.

“From their standpoint, it’s all Return on Investment,” Sexton says. “With off-site events, they can target the customers they want, spend one-quarter of what they’d spend at the auto show, and still win people over.”

Lawrence Ulrich/TheDrive.com

Sexton agreed that it’s a shame to see fantasy brands turning their backs on traditional auto shows, denying the hoi polloi a chance to dream a little.

“We try to protect our property here, keep the doors locked,” Sexton says. “But if it’s not crowded and there’s a kid checking them out, I’ll let him sit in a car.”

At Manhattan Motorcars’ midtown store, at least 100 young people a week, from teens through their twenties, stroll through the showroom to check out cars that salespeople know they could never afford. Yet salespeople try to make them feel welcome, Sexton said,

“We’ve had kids come back years later and buy a car, maybe not a Bugatti, but they’ll buy a Porsche,” he says.

For that reason, Sexton agreed, exclusive brands might see auto shows as seeding the market and investing in the future: You never know if that schoolboy drooling over the dream car is the next Elon Musk or Bill Gates.

“It starts from the time you’re a two-year-old, playing with your toy car,” Sexton said.