Inside Toronto’s booming exotic car market with Grand Touring’s CEO (2024)

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Go to any wealthy pocket of Toronto and you’ll see cars from Grand Touring Automobiles: Bugattis in the Bridle Path, Rolls-Royces in Rosedale, Lamborghinis on campus at the University of Toronto.

Over the past 15 years, as the city has become an increasingly global metropolis and a favoured destination for the world’s ultra-rich, the influx of money created a newfound thirst for exotic cars that Grand Touring Automobiles has been happy to oblige. The company’s chief executive officer says gross income from all locations is projected to rise to $450-million this year from roughly $85-million in 2009. The dealer expects to sell about 1,200 cars this year.

Founded by hotelier George Minden in 1974 as an Aston Martin dealership, the shop had been through several iterations before Canadian auto-industry veteran Paul Cummings purchased it in 2009. Since then, Grand Touring has opened an expansive five-storey flagship location downtown and expanded around the Toronto area and into Calgary. The company sells Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini, Rimac, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover, and is the exclusive Canadian retailer for multimillion-dollar supercars from Bugatti, Koenigsegg and Pininfarina. Even for brands where it doesn’t have exclusive rights, Grand Touring has the market cornered. For example, it runs three of five Lamborghini dealerships in Canada.

The success of this unique exotic-car dealership, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is the perfect barometer with which to track the city’s transformation and changing tastes.

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Cummings, dealer principal and chief executive officer, has overseen this period of meteoric growth and change at the top of Toronto’s car market, and indeed across the city. In 2009, Cummings recalled the shop sold mainly Jaguars and Land Rovers, and only a handful of Aston Martins and Bentleys, to customers in the Forest Hill and Rosedale neighbourhoods. Total sales were about 600 cars, Cummings said.

“We were taking care of truly well-established Canadian family money,” Cummings said of those years. The customers were conservative in the way they used their flashy cars. “They would take [their Bentley or Aston] out to go see their friends, but it was not the car they drove every day,” he said.

When Marcus Breitschwerdt, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada from 2003-2011, came to the post from Germany, he noticed Canadians were predominantly buying smaller Mercedes C-Classes, whereas in the United States, drivers were buying the mid-sized E-Class, Cummings recounted. In the early 2000s, luxury cars had roughly 5 per cent of Canada’s new-car market, while in most other countries it was 10 per cent, he said.

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“Breitschwerdt felt the [luxury] market was going to come. Canada was just a laggard market ... We always had that core of wealth in Canada, but new wealth coming in made it okay to spend,” Cummings said. “Now, it’s a completely different ball game.”

As of last year, luxury cars made up almost 13 per cent of the Canadian market, according to Andrew King, managing partner at DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. And that figure doesn’t capture the explosive growth at the uppermost echelon of the car market. Grand Touring’s sales of superluxury cars – including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and Lamborghini – increased by 48 per cent from 2016 to 2018.

It’s not just Grand Touring that’s seen such success with exotic cars in Toronto, either. Among McLaren’s 12 highest-performing retailers worldwide, McLaren Toronto, part of Pfaff Automotive Partners dealership group, was recently named 2023 Global Retailer of the Year by the British supercar manufacturer.

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The clients, the cars and this city aren’t the same as they were 15 years ago when Cummings purchased Grand Touring. The average purchase price of an exotic car from Grand Touring has climbed dramatically, in line with the Toronto housing market over the same period. (Meanwhile, the gap between Canada’s rich and poor is widening at a record pace, according to Statistics Canada.)

The shop’s old Toronto location on Dupont Street in Toronto simply couldn’t accommodate all the Rolls-Royces, Range Rovers, Astons, Bentleys and Lamborghinis the company was selling, so Cummings invested in a huge new flagship location on Dundas Street East looking over the Don Valley Parkway, completed in 2018.

In the years after the 2008 financial crisis and global recession, Cummings wondered whether Canadians would want to drive such obvious symbols of wealth. “Because of that Canadian conservatism, you just didn’t show your wealth. You were just cautious about it,” he said. He also feared that Canadians might not be ready to embrace flashy cars like commuters do in Miami, Beverly Hills, Chicago and Manhattan.

Today, his fears have been laid to rest. Cummings’ only regret about Grand Touring’s palatial 13,099-square-metre, five-storey dealership is that he didn’t build bigger.

In nearby Yorkville, luxury fashion brands have flooded the neighbourhood. Christian Louboutin, Chanel, Versace, Stone Island, Kith, Balenciaga and more have all established retail stores in the area since 2016.

Grand Touring’s 48 service bays are now always full. Wooden crates stamped with the Lamborghini crest and piles of enormous supercar-sized tires crowd the service area on the lower floors.

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On the upper floors, a new breed of wildly expensive “hypercars” from Bugatti, Koenigsegg, Rimac and Pininfarina mean Grand Touring’s showroom is littered with multimillion-dollar machinery.

The dealership recently sold its most expensive car ever, a Bugatti Mistral, one of 99 in the world, for nearly $10-million. (The base price is roughly $7.4-million before taxes, but this customer added many personalized options that pushed the price even higher.) Another client, Cummings recounted, bought three Aston Martins, one of which the client had mounted upside-down on the ceiling of his penthouse condo, above the dining room table. Cummings said he’s also had a customer walk into the shop the day after winning the lottery and pick out several cars on the spot. Other clients will simply call the shop every 18 months to purchase a new car.

Grand Touring’s customers are not just from Rosedale and Forest Hill any more; they’re a much more diverse group coming from across the city, and the world.

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The shop’s customers fall into four broad categories, Cummings said: old Canadian family wealth, entrepreneurs who’ve found success here, younger people who’ve inherited money and new wealth coming into the city from abroad. “[Most of the money] was from China when I acquired [the dealership]. You did have some Russian wealth, South American wealth. Now we’ve got Indian wealth, Middle East wealth coming into Canada. Canada truly is a metropolis of diverse personalities and diverse people,” he said.

This influx of wealth in Toronto means you’re seeing more exotic cars on the street.

“Now it’s become a little bit more accepted, largely because Toronto has become global in many, many ways,” Cummings said. “If you came from Miami, if you came from London, you’d see [ultra-luxury cars] all day long.” His customers are using their Rolls-Royce and Lambo SUVs as everyday transportation.

While Grand Touring’s sales aren’t heavily affected by the ups and downs of the economy, the colour of cars changes during a downturn, Cummings said. “When times are a little more challenging in the Canadian economy, you go to your greys, your silvers, your whites. When times are good, you’ll all of a sudden see a purple, green, yellow. It’s Skittles,” he said.

This year, he added, the shop has been selling lots of black and silver cars.

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Inside Toronto’s booming exotic car market with Grand Touring’s CEO (2024)

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