GENEVA -- The 83rd International Motor Show, which opened here last week, features the world premieres of 130 vehicles. These include an unprecedented number of models with seven-figure prices, including the $1.3 million LaFerrari supercar, the $1.15 million McLaren P1, the $1.6 million Koenigsegg Hundra and a trust-fund-busting Lamborghini, the $4 million Veneno.
The neighborhood has become so rich that the new Rolls-Royce Wraith, expected to sell for more than $300,000, seemed, in comparison, like a car for the masses.
The show, which runs through March 17 at the Palexpo convention center, could be fairly cited as another example of how the interests of haves and have-nots are diverging in shaky economic times. Europe's economy, in particular, seems to be balancing on a precipice, depressing auto sales across the Continent.
Geneva's million-dollar debutantes -- most of them reportedly sold out even before the cars were unveiled -- are reminders of how the very rich continue to do very well, wherever they may rest their heads. These glorified transportation devices are also evidence of how luxury automakers are meeting the perceived demands of ultra-high-net-worth people -- those often defined as having at least $30 million in discretionary cash lying around -- for ever-more outrageous baubles on which to spend their treasure.
"Our customers expect these cars of us," Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the chairman of Ferrari, said in an interview at the show. "If we don't build them, others will." He cited a recent Brand Finance study that found Ferrari to be the world's "most powerful" brand, beating even Apple. And there's sales gold to be mined by companies that maintain such lofty positions.
"Ferrari made a profit of more than 50 million euro last year on its branded items alone," Mr. di Montezemolo added. "That is besides the profit we made on our cars."
But the Geneva show, thanks to star attractions like LaFerrari, can also be viewed as a celebration of the automobile as art. More than any other current auto show, Geneva's evokes memories of the great auto salons of the 1930s. There are certainly parallels between the economies of both eras. During the Great Depression, the salons of Paris, Turin, Geneva and other cities dazzled attendees with their displays of wealth and power, including gorgeous automobiles from the likes of Packard, Delahaye, Duesenberg, Talbot and Voisin. And there was criticism of those shows' excess at a time of distress for many people around the world.
Those automobiles are now celebrated as classics, prized by collectors and historians. Mr. di Montezemolo is not alone in envisioning the seven-figure automotive playthings of today as the classics of tomorrow.
"LaFerrari, the Enzo which came before it, these will always be classics," he said.
Of course, not everything on display at Geneva is destined to become timeless automotive art. Some cars are flights of customizers' fancy, but most are meat-and-potato offerings for the masses, however hard-pressed they may be.
Volkswagen introduced new versions of its popular Golf, its own line of utility vans and a small two-seat plug-in hybrid called the XL1, with a turbodiesel engine. The XL1 is said to achieve the fuel economy equivalent of more than 260 m.p.g.autonews
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.