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Lamborghini is the sort of product of which it's usually said: If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. Indeed, most Lamborghini buyers simply write out a check when it comes to acquiring a $239,000 Diablo VT or a $255,000 Diablo SE.

But even Lamborghini isn't immune to the value-sensitive 1990s and concerns about affordability. Now, the Italian exotic carmaker is stepping up marketing efforts, with targeted co-promotions, relationship building and even lease deals, to lay groundwork for a planned expansion.

"Lamborghini never had an organized sales and marketing program in the North American market," said Robert Braner, president-chief operating officer of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Automobili Lamborghini USA.

Until 1987, distributors and individual dealers imported the supercars for specific customers.

Chrysler Corp. acquired the sports-car company in 1987, but soon afterward became distracted by its own problems and never put a big marketing push behind Lamborghini.

A lot of Chrysler's enthusiasm for Lamborghini left when Chairman Lee Iacocca retired at the end of 1993. In February 1994, Chrysler sold the Italian sports-carmaker to MegaTech, a group of Indonesian investors.

Lamborghini only sold about 33 cars in the U.S. in 1993, Mr. Braner said. The new organization upped the total to 89 in 1994, and expects to sell around 100 this year.

Mr. Braner said Lamborghini will spend $600,000 on U.S. marketing in 1995, the first full year for the new owners.

VL Communications Group, Roseville, Calif., is handling advertising, public relations and promotions.

Lamborghini uses several business, travel and upscale lifestyle publications for ads that emphasize speed and sensual beauty.

"Lamborghini buyers are interested in the exotic design of the vehicle and how it fits into their lifestyle," said Barry Toepke, president of VL Communications.

"The single most important job we have to do is create more awareness of Lambor-ghini as a marque," Mr. Braner said. "Because of our low volumes, most people rarely see one."

Increased awareness is needed if Lamborghini is going to reach an eventual goal of selling 1,500 to 2,000 units a year in the U.S. The ambitious sales goal is based on building a lineup of four or five products, including a sport-utility vehicle priced in the $75,000-to-$100,000 range by early 1997. Lamborghini also is developing a platform for one or more sports cars coming in under $200,000.

Mr. Toepke said strategic partnerships with equally upscale products helps expose Lamborghini to an affluent audience.

One example is a recent cocktail party for 200 peo-ple held at a Giorgio Armani store in Boston. Lambor-ghini put together the invitation list with the store and The Robb Report, a publication devoted to the lifestyles of the wealthy.

The carmaker also has a deal designating Meguiar's as the "official car care product" of Lamborghini. A marketer of a line of expensive waxes, polishes and cleaners, Irvine, Calif.-based Meguiar's provides a leather kit with samples of its products to Lamborghini buyers. Meguiar's also features a Lamborghini in print advertising from agency Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, Glendale, Calif., point-of-purchase posters and in a planned infomercial.

Additionally, a Diablo VT has been designated as a pace car for the 1995 PPG Indy Car World Series. That gives Lamborghini exposure at 15 race sites, and allows local dealers to put prospects in the car for a ride around the track in the days before a race.

"We sold three cars by doing that last year at the Detroit Grand Prix," Mr. Toepke said.

The company also is increasing its profile by making a Diablo VT available to auto journalists for test drives. A recent result of that PR effort is a March 13 review in The New York Times that described the car as "kinetic sculpture, proof of affluence and amusement park ride wrapped into one."

For the first time, the company also is making a demonstrator available to its 19 U.S. dealers, so prospects can take test drives without the dealer worrying about mileage and liability issues.

One reason for making the product more available for testing is to overcome a perception that a Lamborghini is difficult to drive, Mr. Toepke said.

It's not just that a Diablo VT's 492 horsepower engine delivers a top speed of 202 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds. The Diablo's predecessor, the Countach, was criticized for being uncomfortable and difficult to shift and steer.

To meet the growing interest in leasing, Lamborghini has begun offering a 24- to 60-month lease program on the Diablo VT at $2,999 a month, with a $52,000 down payment.

In addition to touting the lease in ads in business publications like The Wall Street Journal and Investor's Business Daily, Lamborghini also is promoting the lease as part of a direct mail campaign going out to 50,000 individuals with median household incomes of $1.5 million.

Mr. Braner said the flexible lease term demonstrates the car retains its value.

"Anybody who spends money in this price range today wants value," Mr. Braner said.

"These are people affluent enough to afford the better things in life. They don't feel peer pressure and whether or not they need something isn't the question. It's a matter of the way they perceive the quality of a product, which is why they'll pay $2,800 to $3,200 for an Armani suit."



Headquarters: Jacksonville, Fla.

Estimated U.S. sales: $22 million

Leadership: Robert Braner, president-chief operating officer; John Werthmann, chief financial officer; James Stock, national marketing coordinator.

Marketing budget: $600,000

Agency: VL Communications Group, Roseville, Calif.

Recent successes: MegaTech, a consortium of Indonesian investors, purchased the Italian exotic car maker in February 1994 and nearly tripled Lamborghini's U.S. sales, to 89 units in 1994.

Challenges for 1995 and beyond: Broaden awareness of the brand to set the stage for an ambitious product expansion that will include a sport-utility vehicle by early 1997 and one or more new sports cars. Stretch its marketing budget by continuing to develop appropriate co-promotions with other marketers who target a wealthy audience.

Source: Advertising Age and company reports

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