The 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance was jam packed this past weekend as thousands of people flocked to the golf course's ocean-side fairways to gander at some of the rarest and most historically significant automobiles to have ever been produced. Only, that's not all that was happening this weekend in Monterey, California. In addition to worshipping at the altar of that which has come before, the Pebble Beach Concours has become a launching pad for car companies seeking to make a splash in the luxury market by hosting exclusive events and unveiling ultra-premium concepts. In fact, one could argue that the Sunday Concours is no longer the focus of the weekend, but merely the capping event on the automotive festival that has sprung up around what was once a more modest exhibition.
Superficially it makes sense that luxury car companies should flock to Monterey in an effort to woo the Pebble Beach crowds. The individuals who can afford to purchase and display the multi-million dollar automobiles of yesteryear are also most likely interested in buying an equally prestigious daily driver. Some of these well-heeled potential customers are also perceived as tastemakers by automakers, whether due to their celebrity (such as perennial attendee Jay Leno) or their position in the industry.
Making waves amongst wealthy customers is certainly one aspect of Pebble's increasingly mass-market appeal. Another, more subtle trend has emerged from the swelling of the Pebble Beach Concours to include events like the Concorso Italiano and the historic racing at Laguna Seca, and that is the hope for prestige-by-association.
It's natural to see brands such as Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac rolling out a strong corporate presence at Pebble Beach - after all, these automakers have been defining luxury and performance for decades, and in come cases more than a century. The participation of companies such as Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti draws from no such lineage, however. These marques have been created out of the ether by their respective corporate parents (Honda, Toyota, and Nissan), and regardless of their level of modern-day success, or the number of cars they place on the concept green, there is little to link them to the sense of history that permeates the concept behind the Concours.
Prestige-by-association, then, is the order of the day for these relatively young upstart brands. Pebble Beach has become the latest celebrity tie-in, the arm candy at the Oscars, the product placement par-excellence for any car company looking to raise its profile amongst not just the demographic that can afford to attend the week's events but also those who can only aspire to such levels of luxury and who follow along online, in magazines, or in print. Regardless of the fine quality of their modern cars, the link between latter-day premium automakers and those whose factories have been churning out premium product since time immemorial is an artificial one that makes sense only within the context of our fetishization of luxury products and lifestyles.
Where does the future of Pebble Beach lie? This is a question that has myriad answers, because there are so many factors influencing the evolution of the event that has been taking place for over 60 years. The undeniable graying of the collector car hobby, combined with the typically advanced age of those with both the cash and the inclination to celebrate pre-war classic cars of exceptional quality, could see certain models thin on the ground in the years to come as vehicles fall into museum collections or rest in their estate's garages. The influx of modern luxury car money could be considered a savior under these circumstances, providing the financial life blood to continue hosting the event at a level that catches the world's imagination. The very real dilution of Pebble Beach's original character, however, is a most likely unavoidable as greater numbers of high end brands both automotive and lifestyle choose to make the Concours d'Elegance their portal to credibility amongst today's power consumers.