A vibrant symbol of America’s grand melting pot could well be its freeway system, where people from all walks of life converge, driving automobiles that define their personalities and often their socio-economic status.
In the Puget Sound region, the cars cruising along the highways and byways range from late-model clunkers that still have engines fed through carburetors to high-end turbo-charged luxury cars produced by exclusive European automakers like Maserati, Lamborghini and Porsche.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, worth a cool $97.1 billion according to Forbes magazine, falls into the latter camp. Although he reportedly has been seen driving a Ford Focus from time to time, he also is a luxury-car collector known for his love of Porsches.
Gates owns a Porsche 959, according to Business Insider. The old-school, limited-edition Porsche is a car collector’s dream machine, holding claim to being the fastest street-legal production car worldwide when it was initially made available to buyers in 1987 — with a cool $225,000 price tag. Only 337 were ever built, including prototypes.
Another sleek speedster popular with Microsoft top brass is the Maserati, says Shane Capper, director of internet and corporate sales at Seattle-area dealership Maserati of Kirkland. The Italian luxury car brand’s Ghibli and Levante models start at around $75,000, while a fully loaded GranTurismo (GT) Convertible MC can set you back close to $200,000.
“We’re one of two Maserati dealers in the Seattle area, and because we are on the Eastside, we tend to get the Microsoft business,” Capper says.
As far as getting the names of those buyers, don’t hold your breath. The rich do not always want to be famous, at least when it comes to publicity about their personal buying habits. Capper stresses that the dealership inks confidentiality agreements with all customers.
Wealthy Chinese nationals are another major group of buyers frequenting the Kirkland dealership, “a lot of them students whose parents send them to the U.S. for school and provide them with cars and houses,” Capper says.
Maseratis purchased by the Chinese nationals are rarely financed, Capper adds. “Normally, they transfer the money for the purchase within a few days and it arrives through a wire transfer,” he says.
The luxury car business is not only good for auto dealers and well-heeled buyers. A lot of research goes into building and manufacturing these high-end feats of human engineering. That research not only leads to innovations in the luxury-car business, but also reverberates across the economy.
Luxury-car maker Lamborghini, for example, launched the Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory in Seattle some three years ago. The lab grew out of research into carbon-fiber composite materials conducted at the University of Washington. Those carbon-fiber materials are now used in manufacturing Boeing jets as well as Lamborghini automobiles.
So, the next time you see a Lamborghini or some other high-priced roadster speeding past you on the freeway, consider that the research and development that is helping to make it go faster also is helping to improve and better connect our world.