There's no question that for some the pandemic has been more troubling than others. Economic, social and financial divides have been exacerbated, and that tale of everyday life is reflected in the fortunes (or otherwise) of car makers.
Nowhere has this been more true than for luxury car makers, whose fortunes have largely bounced right back. As proof, the most eye-catching figures have emanated from Rolls-Royce and Bentley in recent weeks.
Their Chinese, Asian and US markets have driven record deliveries and forward orders as they thrive at a time others are just trying to survive.
In the first quarter of this year Rolls recorded the best results in its 116-year history, delivering 1380 cars, 62% up on 2020 and surpassing its previous best from 2019. In a brief statement the company said the bespoke commission side of its business was also booming – these cars, of course, being the preserve of the ultra-rich.
Bentley, meanwhile, has been roaring along, getting out of the blocks faster than everyone post-pandemic and building from there. In 2021 so far, deliveries have been up 30% year on year and orders up 50%, all off the back of the biggest-ever year in its 101-year history in 2020. Again, it is notable that the coachbuilt, £1.5 million Bacalar has been a smash, all 12 customers staying true despite the ravages inflicted elsewhere on the world.
Perhaps most significant is the manner in which both companies are talking about their order banks. Bentley’s figures are transparent – orders are growing even faster than deliveries, which is the ideal place to be – and Rolls is also talking this side of its business up. It picks out the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Rolls-Royce Cullinan as star players, and notes orders extend “well into” the second half of this year.
Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark has spoken of the post-pandemic world witnessing a spending wave akin to the economic boom that followed the First World War. Economic data from after the first wave of lockdowns backs this up, as do the latest economic reports, which are positive about the pace of recovery despite the evident disparities in vaccination rates and efficacy, and the ongoing emergence of new waves of the virus.
Good news for the ultra-wealthy, then. But also good news for us. The rich getting richer may stick in the throat for some, but bear in mind that one person’s indulgence is a job opportunity for thousands more – at the car makers, across the supply and retail chain and into the wider economy. To differing degrees, in differing ways, overt spending should reassure us all.