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VOL. 37 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 22, 2013

Luxury, exotic cars find home in Midstate

By Linda Bryant

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"I think the opening of that dealership was a key indicator," Mike Gillespie, collector of exotic and luxury cars, says of the year-old Maserati, Bentley and Rolls Royce dealership in Cool Springs

-- Photo: Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

When he’s not working as an emergency room physician at Northcrest Medical Center in Springfield or spending time with his family in Brentwood, Jasbir Dhillon is likely to be found behind the wheel of a rare foreign car.

Dhillon saved the money for his first car, a used Lotus, when he was a student in England. The car broke down soon after he bought it and it took two years to scrape the money together to get it on the road again.

More than two decades later, Dhillon has added 10 more foreign luxury cars to his collection. And he still owns the Lotus.

Most of Dhillon’s cars fall under the category of exotics, Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris that are fast, handle well and are manufactured in limited numbers.

“Driving these cars can be a wonderful release,” Dhillon says. “I often need to get a way for little while just to do something that will even out stress levels. Ten minutes and a quick drive can really reset your clock.”

Exotic cars creates new business

Dhillon’s hobby may seem unusual, but car dealers and owners in Middle Tennessee say interest in high-end, high-precision foreign cars is growing in the area.

The trend is also sparking new businesses and expansions of existing businesses. Memberships in local car clubs for exotic brands such as Ferrari and Porsche and top-tier cars such Rolls Royce, Bentley and Maserati, Audi, BMW and Mercedes are on the rise.

Matthew Shaw, owner of Classic Porsche Restoration in Brentwood and Hermitage, is in the process of rolling out The Car Stables, a new Cool Springs-based storage and car maintenance company that caters to owners of luxury cars.

“I did my market research and determined that I’d have a guaranteed future market,” Shaw says. “The number of restored cars and exotics is only going to grow. These are the cars that are never going to the junk yard.”

“Space is a limited for a lot of owners and collectors,” Shaw adds. “It may be what’s holding them back from buying another car. I don’t want the car that’s in their garage; I want the car that they don’t have yet. I can give them an alternative place to sell trade and invest in cars.”

Another gauge of the growing market in the area is the pending move and expansion of Audi of Nashville and Porsche of Nashville to two new dealerships, currently under construction, in Mallory Park Business Park in Cool Springs. The luxury brands are currently bunched with Jaguar of Nashville at a longtime dealership location at 2550 Franklin Pike in Berry Hill.

Jaguar will remain at the Berry Hill location, while the new Audi dealership will be on a 3.87 acre parcel, and the Porsche brand will be sold from a new building on a nearby 2.2 acre plot.

The dealerships are owned by Sonic Group, the third largest auto dealer in the country. Sonic, which is investing millions in the move, also owns several other dealerships in the area, including Mercedes Benz of Nashville, Crest Cadillac, Mini and BMW of Nashville and Crest Honda.

Cars can be serviced here now

Mike Gillespie, an exotic and luxury car collector, says one prime indicator of the market for ultra-high-end cars came with the Dec. 2011 opening of Maserati Rolls-Royce Bentley of Nashville in Cool Springs.

“I think the opening of that dealership was a key indicator,” Gillespie says. “It really shows you how things are changing here. People are more inclined to buy these cars. You used to have to drive to Atlanta to get these cars serviced, but now it’s available here.”

Gillespie owns six exotic and luxury cars and 15 high-end motorcycles. He has been active in area foreign car clubs for over 30 years. He says many owners and collectors are very wealthy, but “certainly not all.”

Dhillon agrees.

“The stereotype of being a snob is far from the truth,” he says.

Gillespie is semi-retired and typically budgets for his cars. “I’ll be making payments on my Ferrari for six years,” he says.

Hot market for pre-owned luxury

Larry Thorne, owner of Global Motorsports Inc., says growing interest in new exotic and luxury cars translate to a vigorous market for fancy pre-owned cars.

Although the Great Recession presented challenges to the dealership, Global Motorsports grew from one location to four from 2008-2013.

“It’s shifted much of the market to pre-owned,” Thorne says. “Buyers became more value conscious and wanted more for their dollar.”

Global Motorsports typically has about 300 high-end, late-model foreign cars for sale at a time.

The biggest deprecation on a new luxury car happens in the first two years. The cars on Thorne’s lot are often bought from auctions of cars that have been leased and returned to dealers within two years of their market release.

“You can often get one of these cars for half (of the original price),” Thorne says. “You can often get a $35,000-$60,000 car for $17,000-$27,000.”

During the recession, car leases became much harder for consumers to attain, Thorne says. It required him to travel beyond the region to buy cars. He now travels as far away as California and Texas to search for appropriate cars.

Kris Schlitt, owner of Nashville Auto Group, a pre-owned dealership in South Nashville, says the market for used luxury cars is “extremely competitive.” Schlitt sells brands such as Audi, Mercedes, Lexus and Mini Cooper at his South Nashville shop.

He says the typical buyer has grown highly sophisticated.

“They go to (car dealers’) websites to shop,” Schlitt says. “They show up knowing as much or more about the car as you do. Everyone is extremely information driven.”

Maintenance and upkeep

An exotic car such as a Ferrari or Lamborghini can be expensive to maintain, but many owners and dealers say the engineering and technology behind such cars has grown so precise that many newer models are not as pricey to maintain as they used to be.

Nonetheless, expect to spend some money, says Patrick Hardie, a local exotic car enthusiast and branch manager at Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network in Nashville.

Hardie has passion for Italian cars, and among his prized cars are a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Ferrari 360.

“An owner of an exotic car, especially an Italian one, should expect to spend $5,000-$8,000 a year on maintenance,” Hardie says. “Italian cars are sexy and they sound amazing. They are like beautiful art. But the engineering is a little goofy.”

Hardie admits a recent lost gas cap set him back $600.

Hardie, Dhillon, Gillespie and Shaw all see their exotic cars as good investments.

Dhillon has seen a few of his cars double or triple in value over the years.

“A stock can disappear,” he says. “With a car you can have something tangible, something beautiful to look at.”

A rich social life that revolves around cars is another added benefit of ownership, Dhillon says.

There are over a dozen foreign car clubs in the area tied to exotic and luxury car brands. Once a month, many gather for “Cars and Coffee,” an informal event for exotic and collectible enthusiasts next to the Carmike movie theater in Cool Springs. The next one is scheduled for March 16, beginning at 8 a.m.

Dhillon says the local network of foreign car enthusiasts provided him with immediate friends and connections when he moved to Middle Tennessee from Lexington, Ky. in 2008.

“The network and all the events are just getting bigger and bigger,” Dhillon says. “You never know what kind of car is going to show up. I have made so many friends and lifelong acquaintances.”

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