A Ferrari NV Portofino “entry-level” supercar stands after unveiling during the first media preview day. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Ferrari's Entry-Level Portofino Faces $2.5 Million Mercedes

(Bloomberg) -- Ferrari NV is introducing a new “entry-level” supercar, while Mercedes-Benz is testing the segment’s upper price limit as the rivals vie for the world’s most lucrative customers.

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show, Ferrari rolled out the 196,000-euro ($234,000) Portofino -- 3 percent more than the California, the convertible’s predecessor. Mercedes’s AMG high-performance sub-brand is highlighting the Project ONE concept, which sports Formula 1 hybrid technology and has a whopping price tag of 2.2 million euros.

Ferrari's Entry-Level Portofino Faces $2.5 Million Mercedes

The models are crucial to the strategic plans of both automakers. Ferrari is banking on the Portofino to help boost sales to 9,000 cars in 2019, up from a target of 8,400 this year, to help secure its independence as the industry grapples with the strains of shifting to electric cars. AMG is critical to parent Daimler AG’s 10 billion-euro effort to ramp up electric offerings by showing that cleaner powertrains can still be upscale and sporty.

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Lamborghini is also wrestling with the changing dynamics in the supercar segment, especially as parent Volkswagen AG embarks on a 20 billion-euro push to electrify its entire lineup. The first sign of that shift for the exotic Italian brand will come later this year with the unveiling of a model based on the Urus prototype, which Lamborghini teased in a video in Frankfurt as the world’s first “super sport” utility vehicle. The model will also be the brand’s first hybrid.

“The next step for Lamborghini will be for sure hybridization,” Stefano Domenicali, the brand’s chief, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “But these iconic cars have to be different from others, so this is really the position we need to keep in order to keep alive the dream.”

Growth Goal

For Ferrari, spun off from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in 2016, the Portofino is less about technology than expansion as it seeks to gradually increase sales and boost profit, with a goal of eventually pushing past the 10,000 mark for deliveries. The Portofino’s deliveries, which will start in the first quarter in Europe before hitting the U.S. in the summer, are forecast to amount to about 3,200 cars, 40 percent more than the California this year, according research company IHS Markit.

“If the good beginning bodes well, our dealers got orders even before the debut,” said Enrico Galliera, the Italian brand’s head of sales.

Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne is equipping the hard-top convertible with a 600-horsepower V8 engine, 40 horsepower more than its predecessor. The car can accelerate to 100 kph (62 mph) in as little as 3.5 seconds.

The Maranello-based manufacturer is showing off the model to the wider public for the first time on Tuesday following a customers-only unveiling last week in the picturesque Italian harbor town of Portofino. The event was part of the 70th-anniversary celebration of the carmaker’s founding.

While Ferrari’s growth effort might risk diluting the brand’s exclusive cachet, Marchionne has complemented the strategy by offering exclusive limited-edition models, such as the $2.1 million LaFerrari Aperta convertible. 

Ferrari's Entry-Level Portofino Faces $2.5 Million Mercedes

Mercedes is now seeking to push into this elite league. That means ratcheting up the exclusivity factor by making just 275 of the Project One, which has a fin running down the middle and reaches a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour (220 mph). 

In line with Mercedes’s plan for electrified models, the V6 gasoline engine will be complemented with plug-in hybrid technology. The extra battery boost will also make the two-seater more responsive on initial acceleration, hitting 200 kph in six seconds. The car isn’t just for classic petrol heads but technology fans as well, Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche told reporters in Frankfurt. 

“It shows electric technology isn’t equivalent to eating muesli, but is part of comfortable as well as high-performing vehicles,” he said after the unveiling of the Project One featuring race-car driver Lewis Hamilton. “And all of it road legal.”