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Why Are Luxury Car Sales Growing at Record Rates -- In a Recession?

By       Message Salvatore Babones       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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The world has been mired in recession since 2008 -- nowhere more so than in Europe. It might thus come as some surprise that sales of super-luxury cars are booming -- nowhere more so than in Europe.

In fact, sales of Bentleys (average price around $300,000) are up 60% this year in the United Kingdom, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.

Bentley sales are also up 35% in the United States.

From Bentley Mansory Continental GT Speed
Bentley Mansory Continental GT Speed
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Bentley Mansory Continental GT Speed by Alexandre Pre'vot

To put this in perspective, the US economy grew by just 2.2% in 2012. The UK economy grew even less: 0.2%, according to statistics from the International Monetary Fund.

How can sales of super-luxury cars grow at super-fast rates during a recession? The answer is simple: it's not a recession for everyone.

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The last five years have been one of the best times in human history to be rich, and an even better time to be super-rich. The plutonomy -- the economy of the super-wealthy -- has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Unfortunately, most of us don't live in the plutonomy. In the realonomy where ordinary people work (or don't work) things have been much tougher.

The difference is striking. Consider that all-American company, General Motors. According to data compiled by Automotive News, GM sales are up 10% so far this year. Not bad.

But GM famously offers a brand for every level of consumer. Chevy sales are up just 6%. Buick sales are doing better, up 23%. And Cadillac sales? You guessed it: up 37%.

Acura sales are outpacing Honda sales. Infiniti sales are outpacing Nissan sales. Lexus sales are outpacing Toyota sales. In fact, the only company where the mass-market brand is growing faster than the elite brand is Ford -- and that's only because Ford doesn't separate Ford car from Ford truck sales.

Of course, it's the more expensive trucks that are leading Ford to higher profits.

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The fact is that times are not tough for everyone. Times are tough for low-income people, unemployed people, farmers, and the elderly. For high-income professionals times are pretty good.

For corporate leaders, hedge fund managers, and CEOs, happy days are here again.

So the next time you hear that times are tough and belts need tightening, ask yourself who's saying that times are tough and whose belts it is they want to tighten. Changes are it's a highly-paid corporate lobbyist who's saying that times are tough ... and it's someone else's belt that needs tightening.

American national income per person is now just about back at 2007 levels. The losses of the Great Recession have been made up. In a very real sense, every American could be doing just as well as in 2007.

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Salvatore Babones is a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney in Australia and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC.

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