Appeasing stockholders and making art are two different things.
There are many ways to build up a brand to the point where it becomes recognizable to the entirety of the human population. Some companies do it by decades or even centuries of tireless labor. Others, like Bugatti, pool all resources, monetary and human, into making one elegant masterpiece for the world to enjoy. For Bugatti, that would be the Veyron. Its name wasn’t exactly unheard of before that hypercar made it to market, but the public also didn’t see it as the pinnacle of automotive excess (both in price and performance) beforehand.
Bugatti has just announced a handful of possible new models. That's a huge deal by itself, but the news was made even more awesome when we found out that our beloved Galibier concept had a solid chance of being one of the cars put into production. We campaigned hard to get Bugatti to build this car. Now that our wish is about to come true we’d like to ask one thing: Please don’t screw it up. Hear us out, though, because there is reason for our concerns. Bugatti the artist that built the Veyron is not the same Bugatti that exists today. Today, Bugatti dons the hat of the corporate subsidiary, one that needs to answer the question its parent company Volkswagen keeps asking: “How do we justify your existence in a time when money is tight?"
That's an important question, because back in 2013 Wall Street firm Bernstein Research reported that Volkswagen lost an immense $6.24 million on every Veyron sold. While even Bernstein Research claims those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, even half that figure would be a disaster. With Volkswagen suffering from having to cough up billions in fines to cover Dieselgate, going so far as to undercut its own suppliers to save cash, being a money pit is simply not an option for Bugatti. However, one must spend money to make money, and with over $1.62 billion invested in the Veyron, Volkswagen is hoping to reap the value of the Bugatti badge by choosing to build either a few new cars.
On the table for consideration are a sedan, a baby Chiron, an electric car, or an SUV. Profits are important this time around, so we cannot expect to see the same degree of groundbreaking excellence that was in the Veyron. Why go to Mars when going to the moon is enough of a spectacle? What we can expect is top-of-the-line luxury, craftsmanship without rival, and performance that'll put all competitors to shame. Price, of course, will be in the realm of “if you have to ask it isn’t for you." That's a roundabout way of saying "in the millions." The justification for this will be part badge, part exclusivity, and a smidge of additional performance over the competition...all of which will be placed onto a Volkswagen platform.
And that’s the problem. The Bugatti Veyron wasn’t only a separate entity from its parent company, it was on a whole new planet when compared to the rest of the cars out there. Sure, some cars could approach its acceleration time, others could out-lap it on the track, but the culmination of all of the Veyron’s abilities and the legends of how each component were produced made it so that the Veyron had no competitors. Now that new models will be based off of Volkswagen technology, future Bugattis will lose that sense of individuality. The new crop of Bugattis will likely have competitors, maybe some close enough that we’ll see comparison tests. That will dilute the brand. But we're not saying Bugatti is making a mistake here.
If we were placed in the same shoes with the power and responsibility that VW decision makers have, we’d probably make the same choice. There's no way to continue setting the bar higher without either charging absurd amounts of money (enough to make a Chiron look like a bargain) or sinking further into debt. With the tools he has, Bugatti CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer is making the most sound business decision he can. Let’s just hope that Bugatti and Volkswagen both take the task of expanding the former's model lineup seriously enough that each of these upcoming cars stands alone in whatever class they end up in. Until then, we can only wait with our fingers crossed.