Which automotive brand is most valuable? Depends how you ask

Insider Insight Ferrari Daytona Lead
Sandon Voelker

The key reason Elon Musk gets to be Elon Musk is that his car company, Tesla, is worth more than half a trillion dollars on the stock market. That sky-high market capitalization—more than ten times General Motors’—has long drawn exasperated sighs from traditional auto industry types, who like to point out that companies should be valued based on what they actually sell rather than what Wall Street thinks.

We’d go a step further: Why not value a company by the very best of what it has sold? Consider it a kind of lifetime achievement award for an automotive brand.

You’d think it be relatively straight forward to value an automaker by its classic cars. And in some ways, it is, because cars are immutable and tangible things. No amount of salacious tweets will impact the value of a Ford GT40 or a Porsche 930 Turbo the way it might a company’s stock price.

Yet here, too, there is more than one perspective. Is Mercedes-Benz the most valuable brand in the world because its 300 SLR brought a record sum this year? Or do we give Ferrari the nod because its cars so frequently hit seven figures and beyond? Or do a few special cars not really speak for an entire brand?

We thought of a few ways to measure a brand’s value—four, actually.

1. Who rules the Hagerty Price Guide?

Our price guide is, in some ways, the closest we’ll get to an apples-to-apples comparison, as it assigns dollar values to significant cars from a vast array of brands using a common methodology. It also accounts, to some degree, for the quantity of significant models each brand produced. So, even if a McLaren F1 somehow, someday surpasses the Ferrari 250 GTO as the most valuable car in the world, the Prancing Horse will still have many more valuable models than McLaren and will remain the most valuable brand in the price guide.

2. What sold at auctions?

What things are theoretically worth is one issue. What someone will actually pay for them can be quite another. That’s why auctions are worth paying attention to. As noted, the Ferrari wins here, too, on the level of individual bragging rights.

Yet auctions are about more than just the most expensive car on the block. That’s especially true in 2022, when cars are being sold every day online. If we measure a brand’s value by total sales at auction, the picture changes considerably. Ferrari hands its crown to Porsche.

4. What’s in peoples’ driveways?

If you’ve spent much time here at Insider, you’ve probably heard us say that auctions, while important, represent only a tiny slice of the car market as a whole. To get a sense of what the most valuable brands are, you’d want to know what people bought privately.

It just so happens that our friends on the insurance side of Hagerty’s business track just such information.

(They aren’t good enough friends to share exact numbers. Just note that in the chart below, the vertical axis is the total insured value of a brand, and the x-axis is how many cars from that brand we insure. The size of the dot gives you a sense of the average value of each car.)

What have we gained here? Aside from bragging rights, what these charts really provide is a glimpse at the composition of the collector car market. At the level of specific cars and individual sales, the prestige brands dominate. The most expensive vehicle sold in any given year is often a Ferrari, sometimes a Mercedes—and never a Chevrolet or Ford. Yet cumulatively, the masses of cool Chevys and Fords tend to be worth vastly more.

So, which collector cars matter? We say: all of them.

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    Use your insurance information and compile a list of the longest-held-by-present-owner.

    Run the VINs and take all the frequent-flyers out of the auction data and you would see some of those “expensive prestige” cars take a hit because some of the same cars sell over and over like pork futures…

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