|A computer rendering of the Natalia SLS 2 sport-luxury sedan.|
BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- A far cry from the clunkers many people cashed in on, a new wave of luxury cars, with price tags north of $1 million, are hitting the streets. Originally priced at $1 million, Bugatti, a subsidiary of Volkswagen ( VLKAY.PK), has raised the price of its flagship Veyron by $500,000. If that isn't steep enough for your tastes, the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport offers a 16-cylinder, 1,001-horsepower ride for $2.2 million. The Sang Bleu, as the car is alternately called, was produced as part of Bugatti's 100th anniversary.
The Aston Martin One-77, which gets part of its name from the fact that only 77 will be built, sports a 7.3-liter V-12 engine, a top speed over 200 miles per hour and a 0 to 60 mph time of 3.5 seconds. Though Aston Martin has been somewhat elusive with setting a specific price, industry estimates put it at $1.7 million. Hoping to break into this high-rolling marketplace, DiMora Motorcar is crafting the Natalia SLS 2, a hand-built, 16-cylinder, $2 million luxury sedan. The prototype, currently under construction, will be crammed with features one might expect from a James Bond movie or an old episode of "Knight Rider." A V16 engine will produce 1,200 horsepower. Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research is collaborating with the Palm Springs, Calif.-based company to design an automotive suspension system that can handle speeds in excess of 240 mph. An optional thermo-chromatic paint job will provide a chameleon-like ability to "change from black or blue when it's cool outside, to white when it's hot." The car's interior can be kept either cool or warm for hours, even with the engine off. Beverage holders will heat or cool drinks. To accommodate the handicapped, the front passenger seat can slide to the right, rotate 90 degrees and lower someone to the ground.
The Natalia will incorporate night vision in its heads-up windshield display, and external cameras will help eliminate blind spots. The headlights will house small video screens and a projector that can stream movies from the car's DVD player, satellite TV or live video coming from any of the automobile's cameras. Even the horn gets special treatment. San Clemente, Calif.-based Horntones Corp. has partnered to include an MP3-enabled horn that can deliver hundreds of sounds. DiMora Motorcar Chief Executive Officer Alfred DiMora has a long history in the luxury-car space. He was the driving force behind Clenet Coachworks and also headed the Sceptre Motorcar Co. -- its namesake product won the Best-of-Show award at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 1978. For a time, DiMora moved away from the car industry to focus on other efforts in industries ranging from chemical recycling to infomercial production. In 1997, he founded Star Bridge Systems Inc., a company that created a computer platform used by NASA. In designing the Natalia, DiMora says he tapped into the expertise of auto enthusiasts who visit the company's Web site to see status updates and offer suggestions. Though DiMora may be building an online community of followers and contributors, some are expressing more skepticism than enthusiasm. The project, having been floated for several years, has been described by some as "vaporware." DiMora is undeterred and unapologetic, even if he doesn't seem overly concerned about sticking to a production timeline.
"We are 18 months away from the completion of the prototype, but if it takes 24 months, then it does," he says. "People ask, 'When is your car coming out?' When it is ready. If I was just going to go out and build a car, I can throw it together and have it out on the road in less than a year. But it wouldn't be any different than any car you would see out there. What good does that do anybody? We are building a car company for the future." Beyond building a very expensive car, DiMora is hopeful that its state-of-the-art features may at some point become standard for mainstream vehicles. "The vehicle itself is really a showpiece of technologies," he says. "My first objective was to look at the car from bumper to bumper and try to redo the car in any way possible, to rethink each thing right down to the windshield wipers." DiMora views the industry-wide problems facing Ford ( F), General Motors and Chrysler as related to their lack of innovation. "You know why the love affair
with cars ended?" he asks. "People who were passionate about cars used to run car companies. Then the corporations came in and they worried about the bottom line for the shareholders, and we lost it. Carroll Shelby and Lee Iacocca were real car people, and they made a difference. Put people who are passionate in charge, and you will get what you want." As for his buyers, DiMora says he has a base of support from his past auto endeavors to build upon with new, wealthy enthusiasts.