Ferrari sold 150 cars in Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year - but building its brand is now just as important as sales in the Middle East.
Ferrari reaches for a wider fan base in the UAE
In the 1920s, when motor sport was in its infancy, racing teams painted their cars different colours to represent their countries.
The British went for green, the Germans favoured silver, and the French sported blue.
All the major Italian manufacturers, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Abarth, sprayed their cars red, but only one manufacturer became synonymous with the colour - and that was Ferrari.
Its cars have become the pinnacle brand for wealthy motorists worldwide, but now Ferrari is moving off the beaten track to offer its brand to the masses.
Last year, Ferrari launched its first theme park, in Abu Dhabi, and it has stores around the world selling bathroom accessories, mouse pads and even umbrellas.
With Formula One events in the UAE and Bahrain, the Middle East is increasingly a valuable market for Ferrari. The region now accounts for 8 per cent of the car maker's global sales - double its share in 2006.
"That shows the importance of the region, not only in terms of volumes, but importance of the brand is definitely growing," says Pietro Innocenti, the general manager of Ferrari for the Middle East and Africa.
Despite the prevailing global economic uncertainty, sales are accelerating this year, up 10 per cent in the Middle East and Africa, fuelled by the UAE, which provides 30 per cent of the company's revenue in the region.
"The mantra from Enzo Ferrari [the racing driver who founded the company] was always to produce one less car than the market demand," says Mr Innocenti. "This pays off because we are in a better position than others to weather the storm in the economy."
With a waiting list in the Emirates of between six and 18 months for a Ferrari, the mantra is certainly keeping the brand's fans on their toes.
So what does the future hold for the Italian car giant? In an interview with The National, Mr Innocenti explains why cashmere is the new leather for Ferrari and why women are now flocking to its showrooms.
Ferrari is immediately associated with red, but is this still the best-selling colour?
Absolutely. Red is still the most popular colour for our cars worldwide. Between 50 to 60 per cent of our cars are still red, but the variety of colours is now huge. We have more than 40 colours in our range and will make any colour if we are given a sample by the client. The same applies to all parts of the interior.
So buyers can completely customise their car?
Exactly. It is not just colours and the interior. We are about to launch products that you have never seen before in a car. We can make the seats in the same exact leather of the F1 seats. Or we can use materials like cashmere, real woods or exotic leathers.
A Ferrari for all tastes, however weird and wonderful?
Well, the particular models won't change, but the look of the inside of car and the colour will. But there is also the possibility to have a one-off Ferrari where the whole outside of the car is designed only for one person. We are currently developing a one-off product for one of our clients in the Middle East. The only Ferrari of its kind in the world.
The Middle East is clearly a major market for the brand then?
Overall the picture is good in the Middle East and Africa region. We are experiencing growth of 10 per cent compared to the last year and projecting that to continue for the full year.
How do sales compare with elsewhere?
China is growing much faster than this part of the world, because we arrived there later. This year the US is showing a growth of around 20 per cent compared with last year, but you have to consider that it was hit harder during the financial crisis. The Middle East is not just an important market for sales though. We are growing the reputation through other projects such as the Ferrari World theme park.
And the Formula One?
Absolutely. If you consider that in the region we now have two Grands Prix, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Bahrain, the Middle East is very important now for Ferrari.
Has the theme park been welcomed?
Yes, definitely. It is a new adventure for Ferrari and the first time we developed such an activity. It represents the opportunity to get in touch with a larger public.
Does opening a theme park for the general public not seem a little at odds with developing an exclusive, niche brand?
Ferrari is appealing to a very sophisticated group of people who can afford our cars, but at the same time, we have another set of the public that are the enthusiasts of F1 and follow the brand. An experience like Ferrari World is for these people.
So going mainstream does not dilute the brand?
When you say mainstream it has a negative connotation. What we are trying to do is offer something to a larger public that have always wanted to have an experience with the brand. It's the same thing with our merchandise.
What is the typical profile of someone who buys a Ferrari?
Still the most important type is a racer client, somebody who loves to go on the racetrack from time to time and is really into motor sport. Then you have people who want to have a pure Ferrari experience, but want to enjoy living, carrying luggage, using the car for a holiday and taking the children out. This is a type of experience we call Gran Turismo.
Presumably, both of types of customers are men though?
No, not anymore. There are a growing number of female customers now, especially in developing economies like the Middle East. Many female customers want the thrill of the drive and there are those who are fascinated by the style.
You just launched an accreditation scheme for pre-owned cars. What does that entail?
Cars that have been produced from 2001 are eligible to be part of this programme. They are thoroughly examined on every aspect, with 190 checks. You never know the quality of these cars in the market, so we wanted to create a scheme that gives clients complete peace of mind.
What is the difference in price between buying a pre-owned Ferrari and one new?
Just as a rule of thumb, the entry price for new is around Dh780,000 [US$212,354] whereas for an approved pre-owned, we're talking about Dh500,000. But it really depends on the type of model and year of production.
If you can afford Dh500,000, you can probably afford Dh780,000. So if money is not an issue, why would you buy a pre-owned Ferrari?
One reason could be that our cars are not readily available on the floor. There's normally a waiting list from six to 18 months, so if you really long for a Ferrari, you might go with an approved until you get a new one. The second reason could be that you love a model that is no longer available, so you would go for an approved pre-owned.
How do buyers pay for Ferraris?
Every Ferrari buyer in the Middle East pays cash. There are no financing options available.