Stas Kravchuk’s SUV stands out like a gold brick in a coal mine. With its custom gold chrome exterior, his Mercedes-Benz G-Class shines like a beacon amid the drab brick buildings of a Mississauga office park, announcing the presence of Kravchuk’s auto-customization shop, Wraptors.
Wraptors is one of an increasing number of car-customization shops specializing in vehicle wraps, the current height of fashion for anyone looking to add panache to their ride. Want wall-to-wall carbon fibre on your hot hatch? Not a problem. Is your stock Lambo not attracting enough attention at the valet stand? A pink chrome wrap would certainly remedy that. Despite the wide variety of automotive finishes currently available on new vehicles, even the options lists at the world’s top automakers can’t compete with an aftermarket wrap and, as a result, business at Wraptors and other shops like it is booming.
According to a report from San Francisco–based Grand View Research, the global automotive wrap-films market is projected to grow from US$1.6-billion in 2015 to more than US$10.8-billion by 2025. Kravchuk is just one example of this burgeoning market. After just 2 1/2 years, Wraptors has expanded to three locations across Ontario and is currently eyeing locations in Atlanta and Los Angeles to tap into those cities’ robust customization scenes.
“Twenty years ago, nobody was wrapping cars,” says Jeff Uzbalis, national account manager for adhesives giant 3M, one of the main producers of vehicle-wrap film. “You could wrap a flat, straight surface of a truck or a bus, but to wrap cars was exceedingly difficult.” What’s changed, he says, are both the materials themselves and the adhesives that make them stick. Wraps can now be stretched to fit complex three-dimensional shapes and installed using simple tools in a matter of minutes. Air-release technology prevents air bubbles from forming under the surface, while advanced adhesives make for easy removal with no damage to the paint underneath. Over the past decade, thanks to an explosion in new finishes from matte to satin to gloss to textured camo, wraps have made the transition from a commercial product to a must-have for anyone looking to add aftermarket curb appeal.
As Kravchuk’s gold G-Class suggests, chrome finishes are a popular option at Wraptors. Thicker and less forgiving than other types of wraps, chrome is more difficult to work with, which makes the task considerably more expensive. While Wraptors’ pricing for a standard vehicle wrap in matte, gloss or satin finish starts at about $3,000, a chrome wrap can command five times that much. Cost, however, doesn’t dissuade many of his clients. “In Mississauga, there’s such a big demand for it,” Kravchuk says. “There are so many exotics here and so many young guys who want to switch it up and stand out from the crowd.”
While improvements in wrapping films have made this kind of customization widely available, the relatively sudden appearance of chromed-out supercars on suburban Canadian streets could be the result of larger changes in the economy, too. Owing in part to the ballooning value of real estate in Toronto and Vancouver, according to a report last year by multinational Credit Suisse, the number of millionaires in Canada will jump 54 per cent in the next five years, a growth rate behind only China and Russia. Toronto’s Rolls-Royce dealership reported a 30-fold increase in sales over the past decade, and Canada is now the fifth-biggest market for Lamborghini sales worldwide. Platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, meanwhile, provide access to a global audience for anyone looking to show off their ride.
Whether or not they opt for a colour-changing film that glows in the dark, for many customers, wrapping is simply a way to get their vehicle in a colour that wasn’t available off the lot. That’s what motivated Michael Cioffi to wrap his Infiniti QX60 SUV. “I really wanted it in white, but the dealer didn’t have it, so I settled on silver,” he says. With a custom wrap, he was able to realize his dream and then some, upgrading to a custom satin white finish and a gloss black “chrome delete” on the grille.
Still, while it’s certainly easier to rewrap a dinged door than repaint it, the practical merits of wrapping a daily driver aren’t what’s behind the industry’s rapid growth. “If you own a Lamborghini, everyone in your community of friends has a Lamborghini,” Kravchuk points out, “[so,] you want to do something different.”
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