Pebble Beach: What to Expect from America’s Most Prestigious Car Show

One by one, the cars trickled onto the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in northern California, backlit by the rising sun over Monterey Bay. Hundreds of spectators had queued since before 5 for the late August “dawn patrol” ritual that opens the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, arguably the most luxurious car show in the world. Finally, at 6:21 a.m., the first car sputtered off the line: a 1946 Fiat 1100 C Frua Barchetta.

The crowds came to ogle cars from decades or even a century ago, but Pebble Beach has become increasingly valuable to ultra-high end marques. It’s a place to market their latest models to an eager and captive audience and to unveil new products and far-out concepts that could take to the road decades from now.

What began 68 years ago has a daylong celebration of classic cars has grown to encompass an entire Monterey Car Week, with events held across the Monterey peninsula. Luxury car manufacturers rent party mansions, reserve entire hotels and showcase their cars on public streets as an alternative to exhibiting at traditional auto shows. At The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, the marquee event held each Friday before the concours, enthusiasts pay $950 per person just to sip Champagne and walk among vintage cars.

For automakers, the shift is a no-brainer: People come to Pebble Beach ready to spend. The auctions held during the week raked in $370.9 million, according to Hagerty, a Traverse City, Mich.-based classic car insurer. Titans of business and ardent collectors spent an average of $436,850 on 849 vehicles. The week starred a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that sold for a record-breaking $48.4 million.

But in 2018, companies from Audi to Mercedes-Benz revealed a new toy that even money can’t buy: the electric supercar.

“This is the revolution the industry is going through right now - electric, autonomous, and digitalized,” said Gael Buzyn, designer of Audi’s PB 18 e-tron concept. The flat, low-slung roadster showcased a cockpit that slides to the center when the driver is alone and a virtual reality-focused infotainment system with 5G connectivity.

The only car that created more rubbernecking was Mercedes’ EQ Silver Arrow concept. Introduced as an electrified, 738-horsepower supercar, the roadster featured a one-person cockpit and a roof that lifts vertically to reveal a panoramic screen that curves around the driver.

Both concepts helped garner attention for the forthcoming Audi e-Tron and Mercedes EQ C, the first all-electric models for their respective brands.

The sleek sheet metal drawing crowds during Sunday’s celebration presented a stark contrast to the noxious fumes released by the classic cars during the Dawn Patrol.

“We’re absolutely convinced that electric cars is the way the business is going to go,” said Polestar Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Goodman. Volvo’s new standalone, all-electric performance brand made its first trip to the concours to stoke excitement for its forthcoming, 600-horsepower Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid and take orders for the nameplate’s first annual production run of 500. “People want to find out about the brand, the car, what we’re doing here.”

Infiniti revealed its all-electric Prototype 10 concept, a retro-looking single-seater, ahead of its 2021 target to offer each of its new cars in battery-electric or hybrid versions. Jaguar Land Rover showed its electric E-Type Zero concept and announced it would produce the sports car starting 2020 and help customers retrofit their vintage E-Types with electric powertrains.

Even Pininfarina, the high-end Italian automotive design firm, said it would join the fray, discussing plans to produce an electric hypercar with a potential top speed of 250 m.p.h. and a 300-mile range.

But traditional performance cars still held strong throughout the week. The Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, BMW Z4 and $5.8 million Bugatti Divo made their global debuts. Aston Martin trumped them, displaying its flying Vision Volante Concept for the first time in the U.S. The aircraft takes off and lands vertically, showcasing the automaker’s vision for the future of urban mobility.

Meanwhile, customers continued to open their wallets for old standbys like Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Rolls-Royce held invitation-only receptions to present cars commissioned for mattress entrepreneur Michael Fux and Google VP Ben Sloss. Spokesman Gerry Spahn said the brand also sold at least 15 vehicles at the parties and took several orders for its new utility vehicle.

Bentley, which recently joined the electrified ranks with a hybrid version of its six-figure SUV, said customers commissioned nearly two dozen vehicles during Monterey Car Week.

Pebble Beach is an opportunity to show “the extraordinary access that you can have with the company,” said Mark Del Ross, CEO of Bentley Americas. The British automaker rented a mansion near the golf course, where it set up a virtual reality display for customers to configure their purchases. “People think, ‘Bentley is a brand that I can have a relationship with.’”