Slowdown? Not for this Automaker.

Restaurant chain owner Osama El-Atari and his 2008 Lamborghini Murcielago. "I have no other bad habits," he says.
Restaurant chain owner Osama El-Atari and his 2008 Lamborghini Murcielago. "I have no other bad habits," he says. (By Frank Ahrens -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008

Economic slump? Manic market? Perfect time to expand your Lamborghini dealership!

It is, if you're taking the long view. And if you're selling to people wealthy enough to not really feel an economic downturn.

So it was that Lamborghini Washington opened its new Dulles showroom on Thursday night. Center stage was the new $245,000 Gallardo, surrounded by top-notch canapes, an open bar, assorted sleek-looking spokesmodels, several cases of Harry Winston jewels and a surprising number of repeat and potential buyers of one of the world's most adrenaline-pumping sports cars.

One such customer is Osama El-Atari, 29, owner of the Original Steakhouse chain of restaurants, having a drink while his Lambo Murcielago was being serviced. He also owns a Cadillac Escalade, a Rolls Royce Phantom, another Lambo, two Ferraris and two Mercedes. His auto insurance bill is $18,000 per month. "I have no other bad habits," El-Atari said. Besides, he added, "I drive my cars to work."

Most Washington Lamborghini buyers are business people, typically entrepreneurs who "want to reward themselves for being successful," said dealership owner Allie Ash. He has very few tech industry customers or Washington Redskins, despite his dealership's proximity to the team's headquarters. "Unless you're a defensive back or maybe a wide receiver, you won't fit inside," said Ash, who also owns a newsletter company in Falls Church. The typical Lambo owner has a net wealth of $10 million.

Italy's Lamborghini, which is owned by Volkswagen, sold 2,400 cars worldwide last year, said Pietro Frigerio, chief operating officer of the company's North America operation. The company's three biggest U.S. markets are Southern California, Miami and the New York-Washington corridor. Lamborghini is expanding in luxury-mad China, which the company hopes will offset a 30 percent decline in U.S. profits, thanks to the weak dollar, Frigerio said.

The new Gallardo has upped its muscle to 560 horsepower while decreasing its carbon dioxide emissions. "We are not saying we are green," Frigerio cautioned. On the highway, a Lamborghini will get 18 miles per gallon. With the throttle mashed, as little as 6 mpg.

Lambos zoom about in the stratosphere of consumer sports car exotica, alongside Ferraris and Porsches. They are not for commuting or carrying groceries or saving fuel. The Gallardo can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in a head-snapping 3.7 seconds and tops out at 201 mph. Your Camry takes eight seconds to reach 60 mph, and it's a quick sedan.

Lambos are slightly out of a reporter's salary range. However, we do wrangle test drives occasionally. And I can report that the Lambo Superleggera, which I drove for about 10 minutes, cornered like it was on rails, to borrow a phrase. And that throaty roar when I hit the throttle? It was enough to make me forget about any matter so mundane as an economic slump.

-- Frank Ahrens

© 2008 The Washington Post Company