Toronto needs a bigger Rolls-Royce shop. The old one simply can’t accommodate the skyrocketing demand for superluxury cars in the city. It’s a 1-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, one of seven tenants in the city’s new Grand Touring Automobiles dealership. Last year, the dealer’s sales of new Rolls increased to 35, plus 20 previously owned vehicles.
Thirty-five new cars may not sound like a lot, but consider that the new flagship Phantom sedan starts at $560,000, and a few customers spent more than $1-million when the bespoke options were added up, Gilbert said. He already has 14 orders from fully committed clients for the recently revealed Cullinan SUV, with Initial Launch Edition versions carrying a price tag of $456,000.
(Even those aren’t the most expensive cars in the new showroom: Across the floor from the Phantom is the $4-million Bugatti Chiron.)
Sales of so-called superluxury vehicles – typically, $200,000 and up – have been taking off in Toronto and across the country. There are now Rolls-Royce dealerships in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary.
“One of the negatives is going away, social acceptability is growing,” Gilbert 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.”
Canada has become the fifth-largest market in the world for Lamborghini, 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, chief operating officer, 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, Bugatti and niche electric-car maker Karma – moved from its old Dupont Street location in the Annex neighbourhood to a luxurious, purpose-built facility overlooking the Don Valley Parkway, just east of the downtown. While the old shop was so crowded with $100,000 cars that you could hardly walk around for fear of scratching the precious paint, the new dealership is five storeys tall and can showcase 50 vehicles.
“The Canadian market has grown 7 per cent consistently the last three years, but the superluxury market has grown by 48 per cent,” said Paul Cummings, president and chief executive of Grand Touring Automobiles. “We [sold] 1,600 units between Jaguar, Land Rover and the superluxury 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.”
Back then, Grand Touring sold 25 Bentleys a year. In 2017, the dealership sold more than 100. They’ll deliver almost 100 Lamborghinis this year, too.
In the past, 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,” Cummings 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 tend to lease rather than buy cars outright; 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,” Cummings said. “It changes our game completely.”
But increasing demand in the market is only half the equation. The other half is supply: Superluxury auto makers have larger lineups, covering a wider range of price points, than they did 10 years ago.
Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley now have SUVs in their lineups. An SUV isn’t a summer car or an exotic, weekend-only toy. These are all-wheel-drive vehicles buyers can use year-round, potentially even as an only car.
With more than 100 preorders for the $232,000 Lamborghini Urus SUV, Cummings said Grand Touring has the largest order bank for that vehicle in North America – “by far.”
Aston Martin, which used to be known solely for its DB series coupes, is in the early stages of rolling out 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. Canadian sales of all 911 models increased 31 per cent in 2017 over the previous year.
Ferrari is also moving more cars than ever. Sales in 2017 were up 5 per cent, to 8,398 vehicles globally, but sales of the marque’s range-topping V-12-engined cars were up 25 per cent. This year, 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 superluxury brands have been swallowed up by larger auto makers – Lamborghini and Bentley by Volkswagen, Rolls-Royce by BMW – so while these cars are still expensive to run, quality and reliability have vastly improved.
“They’re providing products that work in Canada,” Cummings said.