The new Mercedes-Maybach S600 is not just the biggest vehicle in the German maker's luxury line-up, it will also be the most expensive when it reaches showrooms next year.
Measuring nearly 18 feet, nose-to-tail, with a passenger compartment better suited to a private jet, the big sedan is expected to begin somewhere north of $250,000, and with extensive customization, some versions are likely to nudge closer to $1 million.
But a brisk walk around this year's Los Angeles Auto Show, where the S600 is staging its first public appearance, reveals it is far from unique. There were a few low-end models, such as the compact Honda HR-V crossover making their debut. But high-end luxury and extreme performance models seemed to dominate a two-day media preview.
Call it the automotive wealth gap, if you wish. Sales of the industry's highest-priced models are far outpacing the overall automotive recovery in the U.S. In China, luxury vehicles are selling so quickly the country is expected to become the world's largest market for high-line vehicles within the next two years, according to industry analysts.
The surge in demand for premium edition full-size SUVs has pushed the average transaction price for large sport utility vehicles to $48,137 according to Truecar.com. That's an increase of 6.8 percent compared to the same time a year ago. By comparison, Truecar says average transaction prices for all vehicles sold in October were up just 1.1 percent.
Rolls-Royce this year has reported a 39 percent increase in volume, and British rival Bentley is expecting to score an all-time sales record in 2014. It brought to Los Angeles a convertible concept version of its $304,000 Mulsanne. Bentley has said it expects to make real gains when it launches an all-new super-premium SUV about a year from now.
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"It's been a while since we've seen this much activity in that (premium and super-premium) space," noted Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive. And it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, coming out of the recession, that "people wouldn't want ostentatious luxury. But what we're seeing is that people who have the buying power for that type of vehicle will step up and pay for it."