STORY BY MATT BUBBERS | PHOTOS BY LUCAS SCARFONE, JOHN WYCHERLEY, ROLLS-ROYCE AND MATT BUBBERS
TORONTO — Toronto needs a bigger Rolls-Royce shop. The old one simply isn’t large enough to accommodate the skyrocketing demand for super luxury cars in the city. It’s not even a first-world problem; it’s a one per cent problem.
“In 2009 I think we retailed one car, and we were the only dealer in Canada at the time,” said Paul Gilbert, brand manager for Rolls-Royce Toronto, part of the new Grand Touring Automobiles dealership. Last year they sold 35 new Rolls-Royces, and another 20 used examples.
That may not sound like a lot, but consider that Rolls-Royce’s new flagship Phantom sedan starts at $560,000. A few customers have spent over $1 million on Phantoms by the time all the bespoke optional extras have been tallied up, Gilbert said. He already has 14 orders from fully-committed clients for the new Cullinan SUV, despite the fact it was only unveiled a few weeks ago and initial Launch Edition models carry a price of $456,000.
Interior of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. (ROLLS-ROYCE)
Sales of so-called super luxury vehicles — which typically cost $200,000 or more — have been taking off, not just in Toronto, but across the country.
There are now Rolls-Royce dealerships in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary.
Canada has become the fifth largest market for Lamborghini in the world, right behind Germany, a country with more than double our population.
“In 2013, in Canada we sold around 50 cars; last year we closed with a record 211,” said Alessandro Farmeschi, COO Americas Region for Automobili Lamborghini. “Canada has been a real satisfaction for us as a brand.”
Grand Touring Automobiles — which represents Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar Land Rover, Karma and Bugatti — moved from its old Dupont Street location in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood to an enormous new purpose-built facility overlooking the Don Valley Parkway. The old shop was so crowded with $100,000 cars you could hardly walk around for fear of scratching the precious paint.
A 1967 Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2 and a 1963 Aston Martin DB5 on display at Grand Touring Automobiles during a launch event on May 31. (MATT BUBBERS)
Exterior of Grand Touring Automobiles near the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto. (LUCAS SCARFONE)
“The Canadian market has grown seven per cent consistently the last three years, but the super luxury market has grown by 48 per cent,” said Paul Cummings, president and CEO of Grand Touring Automobiles.
“We (sold) 1,600 units between Jaguar, Land Rover and the super luxury brands last year, and it will grow again this year. In 2009, when we bought the store, the total was, I’m going to say, 329 [vehicles].”
Back then, Grand Touring sold 25 Bentleys per year. In 2017, the dealership sold well over 100. They’ll deliver almost 100 Lamborghinis this year too.
The new dealership was five years in the making. It’s five storeys tall with space to showcase 50 vehicles. It looks out across the entire downtown Toronto skyline and the constant stream of cars coming into and out of the city on the Don Valley Parkway.
The fact Grand Touring Automobiles has invested in a palatial new Toronto dealership is a symptom of the booming super-luxury car market. The cause is twofold, according to Cummings: “There’s more wealth, but there’s all the new products too.”
In the past, his customers were typically businessmen who would come in and write a big cheque for a new car as a reward to themselves.
“It was one transaction; it’s changed now,” he said. “We have three buckets of customers. We still have those clients, people who are very successful or just have a lot of money. We have new wealth coming in, and it’s everything from young students who are studying at the University of Toronto, to new families who have come to Canada. And then we have new wealth from local people who are enjoying a good economy.”
The latter two types of customers don’t typically buy cars outright, they lease. Instead of writing a $400,000 cheque, it’s a $3,000 monthly payment.
“We love it because now we have a nice supply of used cars which gives us another price point . . . It changes our game completely,” said Cummings.
Increasing demand in the super-luxury car market is only half of the equation. The other half is supply. Super luxury automakers have larger lineups, covering a wider swath of price points than they did 10 years ago.
Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Bentley and soon even Aston Martin will have new SUVs in their lineups. It’s a new type of product for these brands. An SUV isn’t a summer car, or an exotic weekend-only toy. These are all-wheel drive vehicles buyers could use year-round, potentially even as an only car.
With more than 100 pre-orders for the $232,000 Lamborghini Urus SUV, Cummings said Grand Touring has the largest Urus order bank in North America, “by far.”
Aston Martin, which used to be known only for its DB Series coupes, is in the early stages of rolling seven all-new models over a seven year period, including a range of all-electric cars.
Looking across other brands it’s a similar story. Porsche is seeing increased demand for its hardcore 911 GT3 and GT2 models, according to GT division boss Andreas Preuninger. These sports cars carry prices ranging from $163,000 to $334,000. Despite the fact the company is churning out more of them than ever, demand is out pacing supply. Canadian sales of all Porsche 911 models increased by 31 per cent in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Ferrari too is moving more cars than ever. Sales in 2017 were up five per cent to 8,398 vehicles globally, but what’s astonishing is that sales of its range-topping V-12 engined cars were up 25 per cent. In 2018, Ferrari is expecting to sell more than 9,000 new vehicles.
Exotic cars have historically had an abysmal reputation for reliability. But, most of these super luxury brands have been swallowed up by larger automakers. Lamborghini is under the Volkswagen Group umbrella, and so is Bentley. Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW.
Aston Martin is independent, but recently struck a deal with Mercedes to supply some engines and electronics. These cars still aren’t cheap to run, but quality and reliability have vastly improved.
“They’re providing products that work in Canada,” said Cummings.
It comes down to this: a small number of people in Canada have more money than ever to spend on expensive stuff. If you’ve tried to buy a house or a condo in this city in the last 10 years, you’ve felt it.
Paul Gilbert, Rolls-Royce Toronto brand manager, sees a change in attitude among customers too.
“One of the negatives is going away, social acceptability is growing,” he said. “It’s now not a crime to show people that you’re successful. It’s not an embarrassment to drive a lovely exotic car.”
Besides, a Rolls-Royce isn’t even the most expensive car in Grand Touring’s new showroom. Across the floor from the half-million dollar Phantom is the $4 million Bugatti Chiron.
A print of the Bugatti Chiron Sport. (JOHN WYCHERLEY)