DETROIT – Ferrari North America Inc. is expanding into the South – South America.

Encouraged by its longstanding success in North America, Ferrari SpA's largest market for the past 15 years, the Italian supercar maker is putting its sales arm here in charge of Central and South American expansion.

Ferrari currently sells about 100 cars annually in those regions, which in Ferrari's case include the markets of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile, plus some Caribbean countries.

It has 12 sales outlets in the regions, and expects the number to increase as sales grow.

Ferrari North America President and CEO Maurizio Parlato tells Ward's here at the North American International Auto Show he expects to expand sales in the region 25%-30% this year, although he notes that economic instability and taxes as high as 150%-200% of the price of the cars make that a challenge.

Ferrari FXX not for street.

In addition to its new responsibilities in Central and South America, Ferrari North America is focusing on more customization of its cars for customers and launching its first-ever driving school.

Ferrari shows off here a pair of special-edition 612 Scagliettis that highlight the auto maker's Carrozzeria Scaglietti Personlization Program. One of the cars features a 2-tone exterior paint scheme; the other gets an optional “Handling GTC” package that includes carbon-ceramic disc brakes, ball-polished modular wheels and advanced Formula 1 gear-change software.

Parlato says average Ferrari buyers spend $25,000 on personalizing their cars, and he expects that to increase.

Ferrari's first-ever driving school in North America will be located at the Mt. Tremblant racetrack in Quebec, Canada. The school will run from May through October, and Parlato says the target is to accommodate up to 200 customers.

In addition, Ferrari already is looking at expanding the school to the West Coast in 2007.

Ferrari sold 1,559 cars in North America in 2005, up 8% from 2004 levels and the 13th straight year of sales growth. The total accounts for about 30% of Ferrari's worldwide deliveries.

California is its top market with 27% of North American sales, followed by the Northeast region (16%), Florida (11%), Texas (7%) and Chicago (6%).

Parlato says he expects sales this year to remain at about 1,500 units.

Two new U.S. dealers were added in 2005, one in the Silicon Valley region of California, the other in Las Vegas.

Ferrari now has 32 dealers in the U.S. and four in Canada. In total, dealers have invested $75 million in their showrooms over the past four years, Parlato says.

Globally, Ferrari sold a record 5,400 cars in 2005, mainly due to the strength of its F430 model (both coupe and Spider versions) and 612 Scaglietti.

Those two combined for 75% of the volume, including 834 units for the Scaglietti, introduced last year. (See related story: Ferrari Unveils New 2+2 Coupe)

The Superamerica limited edition sold out its allotment of 559 units. (See related story: Ferrari Drops Top in Grand Style)

Ferrari announced in October creation of a new sales arm for the Asia/Pacific region, covering the markets of Japan, China, Australia and Hong Kong, and says developing markets made an important contribution to its record sales tally last year.

Deliveries rose 41% in the Middle East, 92% in Eastern Europe and 36% in South America in 2005, the company says. In China, where Ferrari launched a new dealer network last year, 82 cars were sold.

Ferrari picked Detroit to roll out its technology-packed FXX prototype. The car is not homologated for road use, but owners will be entitled to drive the FXX at a series of 14 track events organized by Ferrari over the next two years in Europe, North America and Japan.

Ferrari will transport the cars to the various track events for owners who opt to store them at the auto maker's headquarters in Maranello, Italy.

The FXX is equipped with a 6.262L V-12 engine that develops 800 hp at 8,500 rpm. The gearbox is derived from Ferrari's F1 racing program and can change gears in less than 100 milliseconds. Weighing in at 2,546 lbs. (1,155 kg) the FXX has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.17 lbs./hp (1.44 kg./hp).

The first FXXs already were delivered to customers in November, and the last of the 29 will get into a buyer's hands in April. Cost is €1.5 million ($1.8 million), which includes an advanced driving course at the Fiorano circuit in Italy where Ferrari conducts F1 testing.

dzoia@primediabusiness.com