Three luxury car myths exposed: For the most prestigious marques, in-person still matters

Munich, August 2022

Three luxury car myths exposed: For the most prestigious marques, in-person still matters

Munich, August 2022

igital experiences have a role to play, but it is the combination with a personalized service that makes sales happen.

The luxury goods industry has shown remarkable resilience in recent years, enjoying global sales of €283 billion last year – that was 29% higher than in 2020 and 1% higher than pre-pandemic. A major part of the industry’s success is down to digital sales channels such as Farfetch and the online divisions of luxury goods giants including LVMH.

This success is often used to draw conclusions about how the high-end automotive industry should transform itself to keep up with changing customer demands. Yet the luxury car market – by which we mean brands at the very top of the price and exclusivity range including Bentley, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and Lamborghini – still operates by its own rules. The decision to buy a luxury car is often made out of a strong emotional attachment to the brand and every customer will have different, and nuanced, reasons for spending their money to go beyond the mainstream. So what do we know about these customers and what they want when it comes to customer service?

They are high and ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs), the latter defined as those with a personal fortune of more than $30 million. The group is growing worldwide, but particularly in Asia, where 24% of UHNWIs will live by 2025 (see map below). However, there are also notable differences between customers in this group. There are contrasts between “old money” and successful newcomers, for example, and people who seek out conspicious symbols of wealth compared with those who value privacy above all else.

Despite these differences, our work with luxury carmakers has shown that, while digital channels are undoubtedly a key part of the brand’s presentation, physical touchpoints continue to be essential in the luxury segment. Opportunities to see, touch and drive the cars, and build relationships with trusted staff, remain the most important success factors when it comes to this group of customers


Berylls Group CEO

Theresa Johl

Project Manager

Christina Eisenschmid

Managing Director at Psyma

Below we expose three myths about how the lessons of luxury retail should apply to the digital transformation of the high-end car market – and set out what customers really want instead.

Myth 1: Luxury customers want to choose their car online

Consumers are used to the convenience of booking or buying almost everything online, and using digital tools to configure how a new sofa or paint color will look in their own home. The auto industry has been forced to keep up, and OEMs are driving digitization forward in all strands of their marketing for the volume and premium segments.

Yet for now, configuring the perfect car online still requires a great deal of self-study on the part of the customer – they are offered the same complex selection of specifications and packages that they were previously guided through by dealers, and they have to decipher the industry terminology on their own. Put simply, luxury car customers – used to seamless service and pain-free buying experiences in every other area of their lives – do not want to do this.

Asking them to use standard online configurators also overlooks the huge range of motivations among customers in the luxury segment. At one end of the spectrum are the car enthusiasts and collectors, who likely have a garage full of unique luxury models. Online configurators and standard information strike entirely the wrong note with this customer. Instead, individual, personal advice and working with a trusted dealer, who is also a fellow enthusiast, plays a very important role in their decision to buy.

At the opposite end, there are luxury buyers who have no involvement or interest in the ordering process and hand it all over to an assistant or driver. Doing the work online themselves is also seriously off-putting for these potential customers. Those in between need a digital experience that excites, that makes them want to buy the vehicle right away without cutting corners – with outstanding UX/UI, high-quality 3D model views and the easiest click path.

Myth 2: The role of the dealer is becoming less important and customer service for UHNWIs can be shifted online

It is a long-standing cliché that inviting luxury customers to champagne receptions and exclusive events such as polo matches will persuade them to buy a new car. This may be true in some cases, and many customers undoubtedly enjoy these types of exclusive perks for owners. However, what luxury customers really respond to is personalized communication from a relationship manager they have dealt with before, who knows their specific interests.

One example is for the relationship manager to call their sports car enthusiast customer to make them aware of a new limited edition model before it is publicly announced. This is combined with the chance to pre-order it or to be placed high on the waiting list. In this situation, the dealer is the source of access to limited edition vehicles, but also a fellow aficionado with whom the customer can enjoy discussing all things car and brand-related.

For other customers, what matters is a flexible pick-up and drop-off service, an invitation to meet the chief designer at the OEM, and yes, champagne receptions.

In each case, the relationship with the dealer is uncomplicated, consistent and flexible. Using a standardized online booking tool to arrange a test drive does not excite the luxury customer, whereas a proactive phone call from a relationship manager to suggest a test drive at a location of the customer’s choice does.

In this context, the dealer network of established OEMs, built up over years, is a huge asset that many new players would love to recreate.

Myth 3: Luxury customers are enthusiastic about electric cars

Electric vehicles (EVs) dominate the future plans of the car industry and the positive environmental impact is not in question. However, when it comes to buying an EV, luxury customers take a range of views.

First Group

The first group are technology and innovation enthusiasts, who always have the latest phone, smart home equipment, and now an electric car. This positive view is most common among younger UHNWIs, who are engaged with sustainability issues.

Second Group

The second group do not own an EV themselves, but are neutral toward the engine technology and accept the growing trend away from carbon-emitting cars.

Third Group

The third group are the rebels, who enjoy the performance, acceleration and sound of conventional engines, and also enjoy being part of an increasingly exclusive club of prestigious combustion-engine vehicle owners. A sense of freedom is important to these customers.

Final Group

The final group are prominent public figures balancing two identities – in the public sphere they use premium EVs as part of their carefully curated image, but with their inner circle, they favor the most prestigious luxury marques and the excitement of powerful petrol engines. These parallel worlds are meticulously managed.

Each luxury carmaker and each customer must of course be treated individually, but from our experience with clients, focusing on the emotional, physical contact points along the entire customer journey, rather than non-emotional digital experiences, is the more promising strategy. The digital customer journey does also matter in the top luxury segment but is only a differentiator if the experience relates to its luxury customers, and a natural rapport with the relationship manager plays a more important role the higher up the scale of wealth you go.

In this context, OEMs need to ask themselves how their physical retail channels may have to change to meet the demands of current and future luxury buyers. They should also consider how the level of service described here could be scaled and communicated to their dealer network, so that every relationship manager is performing at the required level.

Dr. Jan Burgard

Dr. Jan Burgard (1973) is CEO of Berylls Group, an international group of companies providing professional services to the automotive industry.

His responsibilities include accelerating the transformation of luxury and premium OEMs, with a particular focus on digitalization, big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence. Dr. Jan Burgard is also responsible for the implementation of digital products at Berylls and is a proven expert for the Chinese market.

Dr. Jan Burgard started his career at the investment bank MAN GROUP in New York. He developed a passion for the automotive industry during stopovers at an American consultancy and as manager at a German premium manufacturer. In October 2011, he became a founding partner of Berylls Strategy Advisors. The top management consultancy was the origin of today’s Group and continues to be the professional nucleus of the Group.

After studying business administration and economics, he earned his doctorate with a thesis on virtual product development in the automotive industry.

Theresa Stütz

Theresa Stütz (1991) joined Berylls Strategy Advisors in December 2017. Meanwhile she is associate partner and automotive downstream expert.

She has been advising automotive manufacturers in a global context both in the luxury and premium segment. She has in-depth expert knowledge in the areas of sales and marketing, particularly in the context of customer experience strategies. Other areas of expertise include strategy development processes, Go-to-market strategies and transformation management.

Theresa received both Bachelor and Master of Science in Management and Technology (Mechanical Engineering) at Technical University of Munich.

Christina Eisenschmid

Christina joined Psyma in 2002 as managing director and is responsible for the business sectors automotive and finance. She started her career in a management consulting company, followed by various positions in one of the top 3 international research agencies.

Christina and her team are in close contact with (U)HNWIs by realizing continuously projects for premium and luxury manufacturers covering all topics of integrated marketing such as innovation in early stages, customer segmentation, product & marketing clinics, UX research, customer journey & touchpoint optimization, alternative drive trains and brand architecture.

Christina is a graduate psychologist and has studied business psychology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich with focus on marketing and communication.