SINGAPORE Lamborghini unveiled the open-top variant of its Aventador roadster on Monday, hoping to continue growing sales in a supercar market it expects to be flat next year.
Speaking in Singapore, home to the world's highest concentration of millionaires, chief executive Stephan Winkelmann said it had been a better year for loss-making Lamborghini in a tough environment after global sales of 1,602 cars in 2011 and 1,302 in 2010.
"Sales are up in comparison to last year at least 10 percent, even more," he told Reuters in an interview. "We already have exceeded the sales of the total year 2011, so this is a good sign."
But he said recovery had been slow for the entire supercar industry after the global financial crisis knocked sales down from a peak of about 36,000 units in 2007.
"This year we are around 25,000 and even next year it will not be more than this," he said. "We have a slowdown in Europe, we have an increase in the U.S., Southeast Asia is going well, the Middle East is running well. China, we don't know."
Automobili Lamborghini SpA, owned by Germany's Volkswagen AG, is still confident about China, its second-biggest market after the United States with nearly 350 cars sold last year and 20 dealerships set to be running by this year.
"They might stop for a while to buy cars like ours but for sure the market (in China) is so huge that it would soon come back," he said.
Luxury cars are also fixtures of conspicuous wealth in places like Singapore and Hong Kong.
BMW and Mercedes are big sellers but more exotic makes are routinely seen outside pricey restaurants and top hotels despite there being few stretches of road to really air them out.
In Singapore, 45 Lamborghinis were bought in January through September, along with 64 Ferraris, 63 Maseratis and 29 McLarens, according to bestsellingcarsblog.com.
In Hong Kong, the blog says, Lamborghini sold 14 cars in January to August. It was not on the list for September. The blog says buyers in Hong Kong picked up 149 Ferraris, 54 Maseratis and 46 McLarens in the first nine months of 2012.
The Aventador Roadster - with a 12-cylinder, 700-horsepower engine that accelerates to 100 km per hour in three seconds and has a top speed of 350 kph - will hit showrooms in the late spring to early summer with a list price in the United States of $445,000, Winkelmann said.
"We always have advance buyers but we will be building up an order bank starting from tonight," he said.
Lamborghini, which has posted losses since 2009, is also developing a luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV), but may have to slam the brakes on the plans to save cash for Volkswagen, sources have told Reuters.
The Urus model, unveiled in Beijing in April, is designed to boost profits by tapping into rising demand for SUVs in emerging markets, but Lamborghini purists are aghast, fearing it will dilute the exclusivity of the brand.
Winkelmann pushed back at the critics, saying "feedback was very positive" and the Urus "will fit the brand perfectly". But he acknowledged there were commercial considerations at play.
"It's meaning to double the size of the company in every sense in a difficult economic environment, so we have to think twice if the project is valuable," he said.
The Asian market has room to grow, Winkelmann said, noting Lamborghini's entry into the Philippines this year, the sale of "a reasonable number" of cars in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the opportunity to go into Vietnam soon.
"But it's nothing compared to what we see in China," he said. "The Chinese market is making a difference, not only in Asia but worldwide."
(Editing by Mark Potter)