When Rolls-Royce Motor Cars unveiled its first-ever SUV in the Americas last month, it chose Vancouver, in Canada.
On day one, it sold six, which start at C$399,000 (US$308,000) each – not bad for a bespoke brand that delivered just 3,362 cars worldwide last year.
When it comes to supercars, Canada – somewhat oddly – punches above its weight.
Canada accounts for roughly 10 per cent of Rolls-Royce’s sales in the Americas, although the country’s rich represent only 6 per cent of the hemisphere’s high-net-worth population.
One of Rolls-Royce’s top-performing dealerships globally is in Vancouver, a city of 2.4 million people. One of every 10 vehicles sold last year in Canada was a luxury car, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.
Rolls-Royce says Canada is only just getting started – thanks to a growing appetite for luxury driven by super-rich immigrants, mums, and millennials.
“Canada is quite a massively developing market,” said Torsten Muller-Otvos, CEO of the BMW-owned, at Rolls-Royce’s gleaming new showroom in Vancouver.
“I would say that it started two, three years ago when we saw this market going from one record to the next.”
Rolls-Royce has young, hipper clientele
The fabled car maker – long associated with venerable gentlemen driven by uniformed chauffeurs – has looked to a younger, less staid clientele for growth since Muller-Otvos took the helm in 2010.
It has introduced a coupe, a convertible, and edgier reinterpretations of classic marques, helping turn the 114-year-old brand into the unlikely king of pop-culture music references and the new favourite among a tribe of youthful, globalised millionaires.
“The success of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars over the last couple of years is on the back of these younger customers worldwide,” Muller-Otvos said.
“The majority of our customers are global citizens – they are maybe raised in Asia but went to universities in the United States. They are very international.”
That resonates in Canada, a beneficiary of elite Asian migration and one of the world’s fastest-growing pools of wealthy people.
In 2016, 357,000 Canadians joined the global rich club, up 11 per cent from the previous year, a stand-out alongside Russia and Brazil, according to Capgemini’s most recent World Wealth Report, which defines rich as those with at least US$1 million in investible assets.
The uber wealthy – those with a net worth of at least US$30 million – rank Canada among the most likely places that they are inclined to emigrate to, especially if they are from Asia, according to Knight Frank’s 2018 Wealth Report.
‘Selling dreams to our customers’
While Rolls-Royce has dealerships in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, the trends driving sales play out most visibly in Vancouver – a Pacific Coast magnet for luxury lifestyle seekers that has been dubbed the supercar capital of North America.
“You see quite a lot of customers from Asia, customers finding new homes here in Canada, and wanting to be seen in a Rolls-Royce,” Muller-Otvos said.
He declined to share specific sales figures.
“Volume is the last thing our customers want to hear. We are selling dreams, unbelievable products, we are not selling volumes.”
The University of British Columbia has earned the moniker the University of Beautiful Cars for the student-owned fleet of Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Porsches parked in campus lots (sometimes sporting novice driver plates).
Demand for a car condominium
A local developer is building new luxury condominiums to house, not people, but fancy cars in the comfort of air conditioning, panoramic mountain views, and private gated security.
Its bilingual Chinese-English website says 80 per cent of the units are booked.
Last year, the troubled government-run car insurer doubled the premium on high-end vehicles to help offset the repair and replacement costs of fancy cars coursing the streets.
More than 70 per cent of Rolls-Royce’s customers in the city are Asian, and the biggest buyers of the hipper Wraith coupe and Dawn convertible models are yet to turn 30 – some thing that was “quite remarkable” according to Aly Jiwani, general manager of the Vancouver showroom.
He said one of his customers owned a fleet of 14 Rolls-Royces.
A car for the opera and the school run
Moreover, women are pouring into the showroom.
Female drivers already accounted for 40 per cent of Jiwani’s clientele – compared with 15 per cent on average worldwide for Rolls-Royce – and would soon probably account for half of his buyers, he said.
Expect more of that, fuelled by the brand’s Cullinan, Muller-Otvos said.
The new SUV, named after the largest diamond ever found, was designed with a market such as Canada in mind – for harsher climates, rougher terrains, more adventurous drivers, and of course, well-heeled soccer mums.
“It’s flexible – you can bring your kids to school, you can go out for the evening at the opera,” Muller-Otvos said. “It’s fully suitable for all occasions.”