Some shops ask you to queue outside before you’re allowed to buy something.
Not every day, but it can happen during the January sales, or on the approach to Christmas, or during that recent import from the US, Black Friday, which celebrates how the Pilgrim Fathers used to wrestle for custody of widescreen televisions.
Sometimes a new telephone or computer game will be launched and people will queue to buy those, too. Waiting, hoping, pleading for a faceless multinational conglomerate to take their money so they can own something that, during the next 48 hours, only a few hundred thousand other people will have.
It is the cynical side of marketing and consumerism, and it brings me to the limited-production supercar/ hypercar/collector’s car, when a model is built in far fewer numbers than there will be a demand for. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon which, after some deliberation, I have decided I also despise.
The premise is simple. A car maker decides it will create a car, likely a really good one, and that if it works hard it could probably sell a thousand. Then it decides it won’t work really hard; it’ll make 300 and charge a lot more for each one instead. Collectors and investors clamour to have one, and the car maker picks a handful of its most-loved customers and rewards their loyalty, as if it’s doing them a favour. It’s a scheme that is the product of – and further fuels – the inexorable rise in collector’s car prices.
I don’t like it. There’s a cynicism to it – a snootiness, akin to being forbidden entry to a certain restaurant, like that time I was deemed too scruffy for Chicken Lounge. The supplier is telling the customer from whom it will accept money. And yet aren’t we told that the consumer is king? It’s not the sort of king I’d fancy being. “I’m sorry your Majesty, but these thrones are limited in supply and Louis XIV has already ordered three, so he has first dibs.” Screw you. I’d rather sit on a bar stool.
Lots of companies do it these days: Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, Aston Martin. A recent example goes like this: the McLaren 675LT is launched, with only 500 to be made, all coupés. Until it decides to make 500 more Spiders. Oh, and then sell on a few Verification Prototypes.
So you may have put your name down for one of 500 LTs, only to find later there were over 1000 kicking around. Which, if I’d bought one, would annoy me immensely. I get it: with some cars, you have to put a cap on production. The price or purity demands it. But at least be ambitious with the numbers. Nobody should look down on a car maker who struggles to sell out its production, as Porsche did with the 918 Spyder, or McLaren did with the F1 and Bugatti the Veyron. At least they had the ambition to try. There’s something almost noble about the enterprise.
Less so those cynical launches where you’re considered lucky if you’re invited to buy one. Not that, I suppose, you can blame those car makers who can get away with it. As with January sales, the customers are to blame. The cheques involved are bigger, but there’s no more dignity in it than fighting over a pair of trainers on Boxing Day.