Editor’s Note: Peter’s column talks about industry pricing, complete with an update from James “Jimmy” Fu and S.L. “Sonny” King as the Fu-King Motors boys deal with supply issues like everybody else. “On The Table” features Mercedes-Benz legend Rudolph Uhlenaut’s magnificent 1955 300 SLR Coupe, which recently changed hands for the highest price in automotive history. Peter talks about “America’s Cathedral of Speed” – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – in Fumes. And look for extensive coverage in both Fumes and The Line of the run-up to Sunday’s running of the Indianapolis 500. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Given that everything is well and truly out of sorts right now (you mean flat-out crazy, right? -WG) or better yet, “Over Under Sideways Down” as The Yardbirds once famously sang, how did we arrive at this point? Yes, there’s the chip “thing,” the lingering supply chain “thing,” the shortage of everything “thing.” And then there’s the burgeoning pricing “thing” as in, how did we arrive at this point in time in the car business, where $60,000 is considered a mid-priced vehicle, and $100,000+ is now the accepted price of admission for the upper end of the market?
Yes, I get it, time marches on and all that, but wasn’t it less than a decade ago when vehicles priced at $100,000 (and up) were reserved for the Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotica of the auto world?
Now, the average price of a loaded luxury pickup truck from Chevy, Ford, GMC or Ram is approaching $75,000. If you get a loaded Super Duty version of one of those pickup trucks, you’re easily pushing six figures, and more. Or how about the $75,000 Ford Broncos and V8-powered 392 Jeep Wranglers?
The story is even more so for luxury SUVs in this market. Let’s face it, if a manufacturer doesn’t have a premium SUV that’s 100 Grand or above, it can’t be considered a serious player. The list of players in that arena includes Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Land Rover, Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz, and that’s just for starters.
But then again, that 100 Grand plateau is quickly becoming a stepping stone situation, as hard as that is to comprehend, because the list of players with SUVs approaching $200,000 and above is growing exponentially. Lamborghini, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are filling that space, with Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and soon-to-be Ferrari (ugh) blowing past $200,000 and pushing $300,000+. As in, are you frickin’ kidding me?
Welcome to the new normal, apparently. Yes, I have seen all of the statistics – the growth of personal wealth and disposable income, along with the desire of affluent consumers to say “WTF?” and spend big money on their personal transportation choices to “cocoon” during and after the pandemic (you know, that pandemic, which never seems to go away). And I applaud people rediscovering the concept of hitting the road and embracing the idea of road trips they never took back in the day, because hitting the road is always a good thing.
But 100 Grand becoming the new threshold for luxury auto manufacturers from here on out is still a little hard to swallow. Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago when prices in the $80,000 range were eye-opening? Yes, it was. But then again turning back the clock isn’t going to happen either. It seems just a moment ago when the idea of 100 Grand being the price of entry for super premium luxury was radically steep. Now? It’s feeling like a quaint notion at this point, because the market has blown past that.
Is it sustainable? That’s a different discussion entirely. We are clearly teetering on the edge of a recessionary period, brought on by the continued supply chain chaos and lingering COVID nightmare. Not to mention the systemic pressures being fueled by the “Grand Transition” to BEVs. A giant “We’ll See” as we like to say around here, but I don’t see prices rolling back anytime soon, or ever again for that matter.
I’ve been immersed in all of this because I am in deep talks with my friends Mr. James “Jimmy” Fu and Mr. S. L. “Sonny” King, as they try to determine pricing for their new product line.
As longtime AE readers may recall from previous columns, Jimmy and Sonny have operated in the shadows of the gigantic Chinese industrial machine for years. But for readers new to AE, I will gladly shed some light on these two flamboyant characters so they can have a more complete picture of who they are.
Mr. Fu started manufacturing model cars in the late 70s, and it has now been confirmed that he controls every toymaking concern in China through a labyrinthian network of mom-and-pop factories and several other large conglomerates that he lords over. Mr. King became partners with Mr. Fu after initially supplying the elaborate wheels and carefully detailed tires on Mr. Fu’s model cars. The two have been partners for a long time; in fact, they’re entering their fifth decade together now.
I first got to know Mr. Fu and Mr. King after they approached me at the Los Angeles Auto Show years ago. Apparently, they had stumbled upon Autoextremist.com after they first became familiar with the Internet, and they regaled me with the fact that they both learned English by having my ‘Rants’ columns translated for them.
When I first met them, it turned into an uproarious encounter as they blurted out some of my patented phrases that they had learned phonetically, like ‘notgonnahappen.com,’ ‘halle-frickin’-luja’ and ‘the Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking.’ (How they learned that last one remains a mystery to me.)
Mr. Fu and Mr. King have remained in close contact with me ever since. As I’ve gotten to know Jimmy and Sonny, their frenetic pace and boundless energy never cease to amaze me. The Zoom calls I receive at 3:00 p.m. my time are usually booze-filled stream-of-consciousness rants by Jimmy with Sonny yelling things over his shoulder, accompanied by stylish model types dancing to disco music in the background at their secretive Shanghai lair. And their appetites appear to be even more boundless. In fact, Jimmy is still fond of aspiring female pop stars, while Sonny is a very generous sponsor of a female gymnastic academy.
As you might imagine, with their insatiable appetites for, well, everything, their underground garage is in a constant state of flux. Let’s just say they go through about a half-dozen cars per year, each. Fast American muscle cars are overflowing in their fleet, which is an enthusiast’s cornucopia of greatest hits, including a mélange of Challengers (each modified to deliver 1100HP); an original “narrow-hipped” 427 street Cobra; a L88 Corvette; two new Corvette C8s (one black, one white); and a couple of custom-built Willys Gasser replicas from the 60s powered by race-prepared Chevy 502 big-blocks reserved for terrorizing the neighbors in the middle of the night. I have noticed that their fondness for Bourbon has progressed from Knob Creek through Basil Hayden’s to now Woodford Reserve, but that seems to change about every three months or so.
One big change for Jimmy and Sonny is that they sold one of their twin Gulfstream G650s. Since they absolutely loved their jets, this is a huge deal. Jimmy explained that “We had to cut back, business is not so good right now. (They kept Jimmy’s, which is Jet Black and sold Sonny’s, which was Chaparral White.)
The last time I talked with Jimmy and Sonny, I was able to piece together some salient details of the Fu-King Motors future product portfolio (although it took three, lengthy, Woodford Reserve-fueled Zoom calls to do so, with much yelling – always the yelling – and the incessant disco pop playing LOUDLY in the background). Since then, I have been counseling Jimmy and Sunny about the pricing of their upcoming products.
So, as best as I can tell, here is the latest timeline – everything has been pushed back several years (“Chip Hell,” as Jimmy and Sonny said in unison) – and the projected pricing for what Fu-King Motors has coming:
2025 (pushed back from 2021): The long-awaited debut of the Fu-King Gargantuan, the six-wheeled, all-electric SUV is designed to embarrass “anything else in the market,” according to Jimmy. Flaunting some incredible numbers: 2000HP; 10,000 lbs., electric step ladders (“not steps, ladders,” Jimmy insists) and “a look that will humiliate all that other crap out there,” added Sonny. When I asked about the price, Jimmy and Sonny answered in unison: “Enough to make grown men cry!” So, what, exactly, is “enough to make grown men cry?” Jimmy laughed heartily at my hand-wringing over the new $100,000 threshold and said – with not a nanosecond’s hesitation – that the Gargantuan would have a base price of $599,999. Gulp. (But, as Sonny pointed out, that’s a $100,000 price cut from where they were.)
2025 (pushed back from 2021): Another highly anticipated debut – The Fu-King Motors KickBoxer – is the boys’ answer to the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco with “unequaled” off-road performance. Boasting a carbon-fiber unibody and a kaleidoscope of different versions, including a pickup and one cryptically referred to as the “RumRunner Edition” (“it can conceal forty gallons of Bourbon!” Sonny chimed in), the KickBoxer will be powered by an all-aluminum, 2.0-liter, fuel-injected, Twin-Turbo, flat eight-cylinder motor that delivers 700HP. When asked if this could possibly be construed as overkill, Sonny quickly replied: “We will introduce our competitors to the concept of getting their asses kicked!” So, how much will it cost to kick your neighbors’ asses in their precious Wranglers and Broncos? Sonny, who was the driving force behind this program, priced it at $199,000 saying, “There is so much technology in this beast that enthusiasts will beg to get on the waiting list. You want to make a splash at cars and coffee? We got your splash right here!” (Trying to counsel the boys about pricing discipline has proved to be a futile exercise.)
2026 (I’ll believe this one when I see it): The all-electric semi-truck that looks eerily like the Bison advanced long-haul trucking concept that GM Styling created for the 1964 World’s Fair is “a definite go” for late in ’26, according to Jimmy. When I was shown photos of the concept, I thought they had resurrected the designers who did the original Bison, it looked so close to the original (see below). But this truck will be a hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric heavy truck with a range of “700+ miles,” according to Sonny. The name? “Convoy.” (It seems that Jimmy and Sonny are huge fans of the original “Smokey and The Bandit” movie and the whole C.B. radio era in the U.S.) How much? $600,000, all-in.
The Bison heavy truck concept from GM Styling was designed for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
2030 (If it happens at all): It’s clear that the development of the Fu-King Motors supercar has been fraught with problems from the beginning. That it has taken its toll on Jimmy and Sonny is obvious, as whenever I mention it their usual exuberant dispositions turn decidedly glum. First envisioned as a high-performance, hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric hypercar, the machine – code named “Bandini” – has been reimagined as a BEV aimed to eclipse Gordon Murray’s T.50. Said to have 1+2 seating and a curb weight of 1900 lbs., Jimmy and Sunny are still mum – and decidedly glum – on any further information, which is unusual for them, although I know they’re constantly bickering about the details. Which means you can bet that even the 2030 time-frame is a pipedream and not even close to happening. And they haven’t stopped bickering long enough to even talk about the pricing yet. Although from what I’ve seen so far, it will cost $4 million, minimum.
When I asked about products beyond 2030, the boys mimicked what I often say, chiming in again in unison, “It’s a giant we’ll see!” And, when asked if they had any plans to import their products to the U.S., the answer was a resounding, “Never!” Asked why, they answered again in unison, “Too much bullshit, too much aggravation. We’re getting too old for this shit!”
At that point all I could say was, “I concur.”
And I am reminded of those immortal words of The Wicked Witch of the West:
“Oh, what a world! What a world!”
What a world, indeed.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.