The secret to selling cars to millionaires

Reckon you know auto affluence when you see it? Forget the swanky streets of Vaucluse and Toorak; to see Lamborghini Aventadors parked cheek-and-jowl with McLaren MP4s and Ferrari 458 Italias waiting for Bentleys at roundabouts, spend five minutes in the United Arab Emirates.

Cars for which you couldn't swap an average inner-city mortgage are so thick on the ground in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi that within a few hours, even they start to look commonplace.

So what's life like as a prestige car dealer in these parts? In just a few words: very, very busy.

George Duncan, an Irish ex-pat who has been working in the UAE since 2010, declares it's a demanding job. Clearly, though, he wouldn't want it any other way.

Duncan is the director of prestige at Dubai-based Al Habtoor Motors, an operation that sells new and used Bugattis, McLarens and Bentleys (and is one of the UAE's biggest property developers and builders).

While China and the US might still outstrip the UAE in sheer numbers of Bentleys sold, Al Habtoor Motors sells more Bentleys that any other single dealership anywhere in the world.

“We'll sell, this year, between 450 and 475 brand-new Bentleys and another 150 used Bentleys,” Duncan tells Executive Style.

“We're also number one in the world for Bugatti, although that only represents 10 cars per year.

“And we're number three for McLaren with about 60 cars. But within that, we're number one in the world for the McLaren P1 supercar and we'll sell 24 of those this year.“ (They could sell more if not for supply constraints, he cheerfully adds.)

Duncan puts the dealership's success down to a combination of the uber-affluent UAE market, a strong car culture and his organisation's business model.

“For our part, it's all down to service,” he says. “Service, service, service. We've just opened the world's largest service facility for Bentley and we've gone to incredible lengths.

“For instance, the service facility is airconditioned, but even when you drive in through the front doors to the area where you park your car, the atmosphere is 100 per cent airconditioned.

“Each year we take about 20 customers to Goodwood (in Britain) for the (motorsport) revival festival.

“We also have a 24/7 approach. We have five covered recovery vehicles which are dedicated to that task – and are not allowed to be used for anything else – and our aim is to be with the customer within two hours of the call for help.”

And when you drop your Bentley off for service at Al Habtoor Motors, do you drive home in a Nissan or Toyota loan car? Of course not; you take one of the six Bentley loan cars the service department operates.

The other part of the UAE puzzle is that the region has more millionaires per capita than anywhere else on the planet. And millionaires aren't renowned for rewarding poor or tardy service with repeat business.

That, says Duncan, is the crux of his dealership's attention to detail. “Buyers in the UAE have very high expectations and a low threshold for tolerating nonsense,” he confirms.

“If we don't respond to their needs very quickly, we end up in trouble.”

There's also a distinct lack of cultural cringe. Ownership of luxury goods is seen as anything but a reason to be coy.

“It's a very proud market.” Duncan says,” It's a market full of congratulations and very positive, not negative, energy.

“I'm always amazed at the speed at which they do things here. There's no corporate red tape; when they decide to do something, it gets done and it gets done well. We have to reflect that.

“Unlike China or India, when they want to build a skyscraper here, they don't have to bulldoze a slum first. They just do it and they're the best in the world at it.”

David Morley travelled to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Bentley.