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Designer makes history with the world’s most expensive car

Martyn Lucy/Getty Images(GENEVA) —  French hypercar maker Bugatti may have turned 110 years old this year, but it’s still making history.

Bugatti unveiled the “La Voiture Noire” (The Black Car) in March at the Geneva Motor Show, a one-of-a-kind vehicle that was sold to an undisclosed customer for 16.7 million euros ($19 million).

La Voiture Noire quickly earned infamy for being the most expensive new car ever built. That was not the intention, however, of Etienne Salome, Bugatti’s head of interior design who conceived of its concept.

“The aim was not to have the most expensive new car in the world [and] that was not the reason why the customer bought it,” he told ABC News. “The owner didn’t ask for the price.”

La Voiture Noire was actually a project 10 years in the making, according to Salome.

“We had tried this for years and it never really worked,” the 38-year-old Frenchman explained. “It needed our new president [Stephan Winkelmann] to really push for that.”

Salome and his team had drawn “thousands and thousands of sketches” over the years with the goal of designing a car that paid tribute to Bugatti’s Type 57SC Atlantic, one of the rarest sports cars in the world. Only four were manufactured and Jean Bugatti, the eldest son of company founder Ettore Bugatti, supervised its development and construction in the late 1930s.

Salome, who was born in Paris, has been drawing since he was young, a hobby and passion that his mother, a finance director, strongly encouraged.

“I draw all the time,” he said. “Drawing is my life. This is how I communicate with my team.”

He designed cars for Kia, Mazda and Renault before landing at Bugatti, where he’s been for the last 11 years. Salome said he could never work for another automaker after Bugatti, a marque that many enthusiasts regard as the pinnacle of the automotive industry.

Widely known for its $3 million Chiron hypercar, Bugatti has been slowing increasing production at its atelier and headquarters in Molsheim, France, to reduce the three-year wait time, according to Salome. The company delivered 76 cars, all hand assembled, to customers in 2018, up from 70 in 2017.

The goal is to deliver over 80 Chirons this year in addition to one Divo, its $5.8 million, 1,478-horsepower hypercar. Bugatti has restricted production of the Divo to 40 units and every one was accounted for before the car’s debut in August.

“I honestly didn’t believe we’d sell 40 cars,” Salome said.

He concedes that the pressures to always create exceptional, unrivaled sports cars in a sector where “all the cars seem to look alike” can be daunting. Design is just one step of a very intricate and labyrinthine process.

“The car is the most difficult object to design because of the investment and time required,” he said. “There are safety requirements, performance [targets], endless requirements. You have to work hand-in-hand with engineers. I can’t do it without them.”

He added, “When you work for Bugatti people expect you to deliver more than just doing a job. You have to give love to this brand. You have to over deliver always.”

Salome won’t limit himself to just cars. His next projects may be designing boats, bikes, watches — even hotel lobbies.

“If you can do a car you can do any other product,” he said.

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