When the dealer for Italian luxury marque Maserati is asked to talk of his business, he dips straight into childhood pleasures. “In my generation, when we were young, we used to play with small toy cars. These were my toys during my childhood, and I still live it ‘til this day. So I went from playing with small cars to playing with big cars,” says Nabil G. Bazerji, managing director at G.A. Bazerji & Sons, explaining how the passion that drives his business today has remained the same since his family first started representing Maserati in Lebanon in 1969.
Family passion for top-of-the-line cars is also the lifeblood of the Saad & Trad dealership which represents Bentley, Jaguar and Lamborghini in Lebanon. When his late father, Robert Trad, was traveling abroad, “he saw a Jaguar on a road and was so struck by the beauty of the car that he decided to import the car to Lebanon,” says Wissam Trad, director of the dealership.
For Assaad R. Raphael, it was neither the Italian elegance nor the British noblesse but the power of Germany’s Porsche that made his pulse race years before he entered the automotive industry in 2002. Today he is the chairman and general manager of Porsche Center Lebanon. His favorite set of blazing wheels is the 911 GT3. He enthuses, “Until today, it has only been offered as a manual gearbox, because it is a car that you can drive on road and on track without any modification to it.”
The passion of these dealers is ever more important for keeping Lebanon’s luxury car market afloat in the current economy. Sales of all three dealers were hit in 2012. Porsche, which reported record global exports of 81,500 units in the first half of 2013, is the top-selling luxury sports car in Lebanon, but sales decreased from 311 cars in 2011 to 297 cars in 2012. Customers are not in the mood to spend, and “doing business during these times in Lebanon has become very difficult,” says Raphael.
The Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale
Although Maserati sales ticked up from 17 to 19 cars between 2011 and 2012, the demand was significantly below the 26 units sold in 2010. For Bazerji, the local clientele of Maserati is defined by “the people who are behind the growth of the economy”, but the economy may just have grown too little for them to celebrate.
Trad can point to two reasons Jaguar sales slumped from their peak in 2010. Besides the weak local economy, Arab travel bans came to bear negatively on demand for the make, which is a favorite in the luxury rental car market. “This year has been my worst year in terms of sales for rental cars,” he says.
A particular soul for each brand
Bazerji, Trad and Raphael all say that luxury car brands each attract a distinct customer base, but some also appeal to a wide range of potential buyers.
The Maserati Quattroporte “is a four-door car with a sports heart”, says Bazerji. As the Quattroporte usually targets businessmen who are above the age of 50, Maserati will be introducing a smaller sedan by the end of this year in the hopes of attracting customers over thirty and women. According to Bazerji, female customers are usually first drawn to the GranCabrio and the Coupé model, but he expects the smaller sedan to appeal to women.
Approximately half of Jaguar’s customers are women. “Women love Jaguar,” says Trad. The two other luxury car brands in his stable, Bentley and Lamborghini, are a different story. Very few women opt for a Bentley and, at least in Lebanon, absolutely none fancy driving the Lamborghini as their luxury transport.
Raphael says that Porsche does not have a typical client, but an increasing proportion of its buyers in Lebanon are women. Besides having the wealth that it takes to afford a luxury car, his clients are “usually well-educated, know what they want and are very demanding”.
The Jaguar XJ
The introduction of the Porsche Cayenne in 2002 was a breakthrough for the company. It was Porsche’s first SUV, and it was able to suit a larger clientele. “The sales drastically increased, almost twice as much,” says Raphael. The Cayenne was not only the highest selling model for Porsche in the United States but also in Lebanon, where 153 models were sold in 2012, nine more sales than those of the rest of the Porsche models, combined.
Care beyond the dealership lot
Even though the Cayenne has helped generate cash flow, the obvious challenge remains Lebanon’s current economic and political situation. What do these automotive companies do to try and boost their sales? Raphael explains that Porsche Center Lebanon “does everything it takes”. The company allows potential customers test drives, and it personalizes its contacts by keeping in touch with clients and welcoming them to the Porsche community.
“A Porsche customer should be led through the Porsche experience in an excellent way,” Raphael says. A month after a customer purchases a car, they receive a ‘welcome kit’ which includes a frame of a signed Porsche logo, the car’s engine number, the chassis number and an invitation to join the Porsche Club. A Porsche customer also receives a package for their car’s first anniversary. In addition to this, the company has hosted events such as the “Porsche Kids Driving School” in partnership with Kunhadi, an organization dedicated to promoting road safety.
Trad, Lebanon’s dealer of Bentley, Jaguar and Lamborghini, is offering special conditions and discounts to customers to improve sales. These include free options on the car. “We find ways to give attractive options to our clients,” says Trad.
Bazerji emphasizes how important it is to find potential customers — which he refers to as leads — who show interest in his cars. He “[creates] contact between the lead and the car with the aim to motivate enough interest until they become customers”. However, he explains that “the difficult part is finding leads” because of the current political and economic situation in the country. Bazerji introduced the Maserati Club to Lebanon two years ago. The club hosts a variety of events. According to Bazerji, “What is amazing is that even if people do not know each other, by putting them together, we see that they can mix easily because of the love they have for their cars.”
For those who want to indulge in their passions, feel the thrill of the accelerator, or just show off their wealth, Lebanon’s high-end dealers are waiting with keys in hand.