Supercar Blondie is starting an auction house for hypercars and yachts

The woman behind the Supercar Blondie moniker will launch SBX Cars on April 2.  The launch may highlight the sway of content creators, but it will test their ability to translate a social media footprint into actual selling power. — Photo from Supercar Blondie

LOS ANGELES: What do you do after parlaying a drive-time radio talk show career into a media brand with 2 billion monthly viewers and 65 full-time employees?

If you’re Alex Hirschi, you start an auction house.

On April 2, the woman behind the Supercar Blondie moniker will launch SBX Cars, an online auction site that sells the hypercars and other expensive toys she’s become famous for showcasing.

"There’s a gap in the market,” says Hirschi, describing the project over tea on a Beverly Hills rooftop.

"We receive a lot of people asking if we have a buyer for one of their unique cars, and we have other people saying, ‘Hey, I want to find this car. I can’t find it anywhere. Do you know of someone?’ There are incredibly wealthy people sitting in markets that no one is serving, and they are watching.”

SBX Cars has confirmed more than US$100 million in consignments prior to launch, says Hirschi.

The 38-year-old Australian runs the Supercar Blondie brand with her husband Nik out of Dubai; the auction house will operate primarily from Los Angeles and Dubai, with dedicated teams in London as well.

"There’s no platform right now that just does exclusive sales,” says Nik, a one-time account manager at Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

He quit finance in 2018 to join Alex as chief executive officer of SB Media Group.

"It does happen that people are selling US$3 million cars online, but that car may be listed alongside a US$20,000 car, so it’s not a premium feel. We’ve built a whole new platform that is going to feel premium, look premium.”

A crowded segment

SBX Cars is entering a market that’s cooled from Covid-19’s record-setting highs and is pockmarked with failed startups such as Vroom, all elbowing for space to define themselves.

Bring a Trailer beat the odds with the high-low mix that Nik Hirschi describes above.

Founded by Randy Nonnenberg in 2007, it reported US$1.4 billion in revenue last year, up from US$1.3 billion in 2022.

Others that have prevailed include US-based Cars & Bids, launched in 2020 by YouTuber Doug DeMuro, who has cultivated a car-nerd following that buys late-model Hondas and Subarus.

In Europe, Collecting Cars, founded by Edward Lovett in 2019, reported £130 million (US$166.3 million) in sales last year.

RM Sotheby’s, Barrett-Jackson and Gooding & Co. have started holding web-based sales, too.

"The offline world is becoming very, very savvy and very digital,” says Juan Diego Calle, the chief executive officer of industry tracker

A single live auction typically costs more than US$1 million to produce, whereas online sales incur minimal overhead.

Online auctions also allow for nontraditional sales premiums and affordable pricing structures aimed at encouraging higher sell-through rates. At Gooding’s live auctions, for instance, vehicles valued at US$250,000 or less come without a reserve price; online, that number is US$75,000.

"It’s much more cost-effective for us to do online sales,” president and founder David Gooding says with a note of caution.

"Bring a Trailer has had such great success, everybody thinks they can just mimic it.”

Hirschi says rarity will be SBX Car’s selling point.

Instead of BMW M3s and Lamborghini SUVs-ubiquitous among tonier automotive enclaves-SBX Cars will sell vintage Formula One cars like the John Player Special racers from the Lotus F1 team of the 1970s and ’80s.

A Mercedes-AMG One supercar, Tesla Cybertruck, BMW glass yacht and Hyperion XP-1 prototype will list among the first lots offered.

Documenting such vehicles for years on Supercar Blondie has positioned SBX Cars to compete in the crowded online market, says Lance Butler, founder of the now-shuttered Stratas Auctions and formerly of Bonhams, who has been hired as auction director. "

She has already done all the work that car specialists are supposed to do at an auction house” in terms of fostering a wide network of collectors who trust her, Butler says.

"I fell into it, I wasn’t a car journalist,” says Hirschi, who transitioned from interviewing celebrities on the radio in Dubai to her supercar-focused YouTube channel in 2017. She’s like her viewers, she says: not an expert, she just loves cars.

Hirschi’s easygoing approach appealed. Today, the brand counts 110 million subscribers across platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, BilBili and its website.

Inventory headwinds

SBX Cars will start by opening 15 to 20 auctions per week and will scale up from there, according to Butler.

Auctions will last from seven to 14 days. As with Bring a Trailer, anyone will be able to view and comment; those who submit a credit card and ID can also bid. The price to list a vehicle will start at US$250; buyers will pay a 5% sales premium.

"The day the first car sells, we will be profitable on our overhead,” says Butler. "Making the costs back off of the platform shouldn’t take that long.” (Nik Hirschi says SBX Cars is funded by the media business, so it carries no debt or outside investors.)

By definition, there’s a limited amount of singular vehicles to go around.

Lamborghini made nine Veneno Roadsters, for example.

Finding buyers who can afford the US$9 million going rate will be even trickier. (SBX Cars will offer one when it launches, along with a Veneno Coupe.)

"Quite frankly, the air gets thin at that level,” says Lovett of Collecting Cars. Selling such cars is not merely capitalising on technology, an algorithm or SEO search terms, he says.

"It’s about your work ethic and operational knowledge of how to run an auction.”

Steve Davis, the president of Barrett-Jackson, compares online car buying to online gambling-complementing but not replacing live auctions.

"Online gambling is available, but the casinos are full,” says Davis. "There’s something about being able to touch and feel an environment.”

Prospective bidders on SBX Cars may view vehicles via video or in-person (upon request), but there’s no further official vetting process for cars offered, a spokesman confirmed. Caveat emptor will apply.

Social power

Lounging in the Los Angeles sunshine, Alex Hirschi doesn’t seem worried. SBX Cars is serving a lucrative niche, she says, and it’s powered by the eyeballs Sotheby’s and Gooding can’t provide.

"The point here is not that all billionaires follow us,” Hirschi says.

"The point is that we can do a video on a car and get 20 million views, and then someone sees the car is for sale, shares it to WhatsApp and a collector says ‘Did you see this?’ That’s the point.”

Put more simply: "They don’t have the network,” says Nik about the traditional auction houses.

Several prominent multimillion-dollar sales of Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce vehicles have resulted from buyers first seeing the cars on Supercar Blondie, he says. Private sales, while not available at launch, are part of the eventual business plan.

John Temerian, co-founder of Miami-based Curated, which sells vintage European cars, says it all comes down to trust.

The launch of SBX Cars may highlight the sway of content creators, but it will test their ability to translate a social media footprint into actual selling power.

If enough collectors who trust Hirschi to feature their cars in YouTube videos also believe that SBX Cars will be able to sell those cars, the new auction platform could work. It might even disrupt.

"Does Alex’s impact in the automotive world translate into consumer confidence?” Temerian says. "If it does, she’ll create a 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
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