Following in the footsteps of the fashion sector, today’s car manufacturers also have to offer more and more options for personalization/customization to tune into the customer’s desire for ‘uniqueness’. According to some, basic cars will be discontinued in the foreseeable future and rather sooner than later every car leaving the factory will be custom made. Maybe with a chicken-egg sized sapphire on the dashboard ?
Text Anja Van Der Borght
“Over the years, I have certainly received some very special requests for customization. A customer asked me to integrate a solid, transparent blue sapphire in ‘cushion’ cut into the center console of his Bugatti Chiron. It was a downright enchanting stone bigger than a chicken egg worth about 20 million euros, that quite naturally also had to be removable. In collaboration with the French company Realnum, we designed the holder for the stone in such a way that a maximum amount of light would shine through the stone.Etienne Salomé, CEO of Salome Yachts and Design, consultant for car manufacturers and himself an artist.
“A Chinese customer once had a Birkin bag custom made by Hermès in various pastels and colors such as pink, yellow, blue, …”, says Etienne Salomé, CEO of Salome Yachts and Design, consultant for car manufacturers and himself an artist. “Then he asked for a matching Bugatti Chiron. It drove the Bugatti management crazy because the car was anything but their European idea of taste. The car ultimately failed to make it to the visualization stage, but if it drove around today, it would certainly turn some heads. Another customer had his car completely repainted and applied an illustration of a dynamic flag of his country with an airbrush. Was it a Brazilian or another nationality… I don’t remember; I do know that the car was painted in bright green and gold and the customer asked shortly after delivery to repaint the entire car in one color! The basic idea behind customization is to never say ‘no’ to a customer but always ‘yes’ and later look for alternatives to materialize what he wants. After all, as a designer you are always a ‘problem solver’ in one way or another! In the end I consider myself lucky that everyone has different tastes, otherwise life would be very boring!”
Etienne Salomé, CEO Salome Yachts and Design, consultant to car manufacturers and artist: “Generally speaking, all markets are moving towards highly individualized cars, because the customer strives to be unique.”
Sapphire chicken egg
“Over the years, I have certainly received some very special requests for customization,” Etienne Salome continues. “During the 12 years I worked at Bugatti, a customer asked me to integrate a solid, transparent blue sapphire in ‘cushion’ cut into the center console of his Bugatti Chiron. It was a downright enchanting stone of roughly 490 carats – bigger than a chicken egg – worth about 20 million euros, that quite naturally also had to be removable. In collaboration with the French company Realnum, we designed the holder for the stone in such a way that a maximum amount of light would shine through the stone. Unfortunately we were never able to realize the project because the sapphire was eventually sold to a museum.”
“Another customer once asked to have inlays in solid silver in the center console of his Bugatti Veyron after a print of his son’s baby feet. We mounted that inlay in a blue-tinted carbon fiber plate as a kind of stamp to make the car ‘his'”, Etienne Salomé says. There are indeed different levels of customization. Some customers opt for customization to make the car ‘their own’, to really make it part of their personal belongings. Others want to customize a car because they like the feeling of having a unique car. This desire for uniqueness is not only found in the automotive sector. Take the watch sector, for example: until a few years ago, as a watch manufacturer, you introduced a watch in white gold, pink gold, platinum and a few versions with a different complexity. Today, the customer wants to be able to choose the motif on the dial, the pattern of dials or guillochage, … In short, his watch must be limited, unique. And watches are also more unique. We combine them with other wristbands; choose a certain stitching (color) on the wristband.”
“A Chinese customer once had a Birkin bag custom made by Hermès in various pastels and colors such as pink, yellow, blue, … When he asked for a matching Bugatti Chiron it drove the Bugatti management crazy.”Etienne Salomé, CEO of Salome Yachts and Design, consultant for car manufacturers and himself an artis
Today, car manufacturers also have to offer more to meet the customer’s desire for ‘uniqueness’. Currently, most brands offer specific editions or equipment packages, but these are marketed to accompany the customer. Ultimately, these too will evolve in the direction of the individual approach. Basic cars will no longer be delivered in the near future. Every car that then leaves the factory will be custom made; however, at different levels. Or the customer opts for a complete tailor-made programme. Or he can choose certain things that are ready on the shelf and he can, for example, add some inlay work. The more options, the more customers will want something unique. People also learn more about what is possible. It is a phenomenon of our time; a cultural evolution, so to speak. We do notice that the demand for extensive customization often comes from markets other than Europe, where the customer is somewhat more down to earth in that respect. For the time being at least.
The European customer may increasingly be aware that the result of a thorough ‘bespoke’ car is ultimately so personal that it is less easy to resell the car afterwards?
“Some indeed see their car as an investment and then you want to make it unique but not too personal,” says Etienne Salomé. “Removing the customization is also often not a solution because, for example, the leather or material that was used in the car is no longer in stock. Moreover, today we often speak of custom-made vehicles that are preferably sold in their original condition. In other words, it should look like it left the factory. A customer once asked to have his signature on the running boards, I suggested to him that a portrait would be preferable, because a signature is very personal while a portrait can be seen as art. For the ‘Black Bess’ edition of ‘les legendes de Bugatti’ (limited to three cars) I realized paintings directly on the leather. I used to work with special ink that settles in the open pores of the leather. Afterwards, these leather works of art – impossible to imitate – go back to the factory to seal the pores and are also applied to the panels of, for example, the interior doors or the headrests of the seats. These authentic and unique paintings turned every Bugatti into a moving canvas, connecting the worlds of art and design.”
From A to A
“When we look at the trends, we can say that in general all markets are moving towards highly individualized cars with the intention of being unique,” says Etienne Salomé. “Furthermore, we are configuring less and less carbon fiber in visible areas, we are playing more with glossy and matte surfaces in terms of exterior and customers are regularly asking for vegan alternatives for their car interior. They vary from leather made from mushrooms to leather made from compressed fruit peels, … Sometimes simple Alcantara – which is ultimately a plastic – offers a simple answer to their question. In the field of supercars, customers want to use their cars to drive from A to B and not from A to A, so they often need more luggage space. Custom-made suitcase sets are therefore very popular. For the Koenigsegg Gemera, where I led the interior concept under the supervision of Sasha Selipanov, we designed a complete luggage set to match the interior of this supercar.”
“The most exclusive customization project I worked on is the unique “La Voiture Noire” from Bugatti”, says Etienne Salomé. “A 1 of 1, customized from A to Z, the most complete project of them all, with a price of 17 million euros, the most expensive too. The car was presented during the Geneva motor show in 2019. iIt’s heart is the W16 quad turbos delivering 1500 PS. it is inspired by the Bugatti T57SC Atlantic, particularly the one owned by Jean Bugatti, the son of company founder Ettore. This car that was produced in the Molsheim has been delivered to a very happy customer. It is truly the epitome of Bugatti customization program, illustrating the beauty on one side on the immense power and speed on the other. One of my favorite details is the special wish from the customer: the 6 exhaust pipes! It may be clear, there are no limits to car customization.”