By Jackson Hayes
TORONTO, ONT. – Grand Touring Automobiles is joining a growing list of downtown Toronto stores that have looked up rather than out when building new facilities.
The historic luxury operation has broken ground on an ambitious new project that will see the facility move from its current 30,000-square foot home on Dupont Street to a five-storey, 141,000 square foot facility off Dundas Street East overlooking the busy Don Valley Parkway.
“It is really going to be an amazing difference,” says V-P of operations and general manager Shawn Morris. “The whole team is very excited to get started.”
Construction has started on what executives hope will be an 18-month build. The best-case scenario will see it open for business in December 2016, though Morris concedes a more realistic start date to be spring 2017.
As anyone who built a dealership through the winter of 2014/2015 can attest, a particularly bitter winter can wreak havoc on even the most well-intentioned construction timelines.
The first three floors are being referred too loosely as the “concrete bunker.” The bottom level will be home to a car wash and parking, mostly for service cars.
Level two will be a service shop complete with 36 bays and three alignment bays. With six brands all having slightly different dimensional requirements related to lifts, the logistics of fixed operations was certainly more complicated than for most.
The third floor will be the service reception. It is also the level where customers access the dealership from Carroll Street.
Floor four, dubbed the terrace level, features three pods or showrooms spread across two levels.
Jaguar Land Rover will account for roughly 50 per cent of the space and meet the new Arch Concept corporate image announced back in 2013.
The second pod on the north side will house the super luxury brands also across two floors. Bentley and Lamborghini will be on the bottom and Aston Martin and Rolls Royce will sit above. (The split for Bentley and Rolls Royce was the best solution to appease both automakers.)
The sixth floor will be home to rooftop parking for inventory.
The third pod will be a used-car showroom and house 15 vehicles.
Given that the current showroom has room for 20 cars “if we jam them in,” the new capacity of 45 units will be a welcome change.
Vehicles navigating between floors will use a ramp system that connects the first four levels. Morris assures the wide internal ramps will be “conducive to novice customers.”
“We used the turning radius of a Phantom EWB to ensure the turns were wide enough for all of our models.”
Customers will use a staircase or elevator to get from floors four to five; cars get their own elevator.
The current facility at 740 Dupont Street is essentially in the middle of nowhere for a car dealership.
Though it is close to Forest Hill and its well-heeled residents, the old store, as Morris explains, is difficult to get to, landlocked, restricted in bays, showroom space and customer parking.
In other words, everything a dealership does not want.
“We decided a few years ago we needed to find a new facility knowing, particularly with Jaguar Land Rover, which are the volume brands, knowing their direction and where they are going towards 2020, we said we have to move and move as soon as possible.”
That volume growth extends to all five marques as super luxury has enjoyed boosts in sales both here and globally.
Jaguar Land Rover were up 3.4 per cent to the end of July in Canada with combined sales of 4,774. Volkswagen Group does not report monthly sales of either Bentley or Lamborghini, but the annual totals for the two latter brands and Rolls Royce were strong coming into 2015 with Rolls Royce up 12 per cent to 4,063 cars; Bentley up nine per cent with 11,020 units; and Lamborghini setting a record year in sales with 2,530 cars delivered worldwide in 2014.
Morris, who spoke to Canadian AutoWorld from California where he was completing Aston Martin training, had just come from New Orleans where he had the opportunity to drive the new Jaguar XE and see the new production version F-Pace, says the expanded dealership dimensions come with new volume targets.
He says the current store will sell 120 Jaguars this year. That number is expected to grow to over 300 in a few years time.
He adds that the Grand Touring-owned Lamborghini Toronto, located in Maple roughly 15 minutes north of the city, is “busting at the seams” despite moving in just a few years ago.
“We are actually building a new store in that same auto mall as both Aston and Lamborghini have outgrown the facility. The showroom is just fine; it is the shop. We cannot manage the service business in the back.”
The group looks to build on that Lamborghini success downtown as it already sits as one of the highest proportionate performers for Aventador in North America.
Seeking to learn from those who came before, Morris, Grand Touring dealer principal and CEO Paul Cummings and the design team visited other vertically integrated dealerships like Lexus Downtown, Downtown Porsche and Mercedes-Benz Downtown Toronto and tried to learn from them to make it easier for staff and customers to move around the building.
That search also extended to multi-level dealerships in Florida and Manhattan.
While the learning process was helpful, Grand Touring’s most daunting challenge is not one found at many other locations: dealing with six brands each with specific image guidelines.
“The floodplain was the first big challenge, but the engineers and architects overcame that. The biggest ongoing issue and delay has been meeting image requirements, especially since some OEMs have come out with new CI,” Morris says.
“Bentley just came out with a new CI and Jaguar Land Rover announced the Arch Concept while we were designing this building.”
Knowing the changes were coming helped but he says there was still a lot of back and forth to ensure everyone was happy.
The main architectural firm is Plaston Architect with some additional design work done by Weiss and Associates.
Costs for the project were not revealed. The store will be leased from landlord AWIN Auto Group.
ReoCan owns the Dupont location and the intention is to clear the site and build a mix of retail and low-rise residential properties.
When asked what he most looks forward to Morris says it will be breathing room and the ability to grow.
While he says the opportunity to do some event-based marketing and establish relationships with affinity partners is an exciting change, the real bonus will be for customers.
“The biggest goal with all of this is to enhance the customer experience we can offer. It will be great.”