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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

Luxury car hire soars for UK’s ‘supercar season’ thanks to Arab petrolheads

The annual 'supercar season' is growing, but not every Lamborghini parked on Knightsbridge is imported — many tourists from the Arabian Gulf are becoming part of the scene for as little as Dh1,400.
A Lamborghini Aventador parked outside the Valentino Store in Knightsbridge in London, England in August 2014. Not every supercar in London is imported from the Arabian Gulf with luxury rental companies saying they are making a roaring trade. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
A Lamborghini Aventador parked outside the Valentino Store in Knightsbridge in London, England in August 2014. Not every supercar in London is imported from the Arabian Gulf with luxury rental companies saying they are making a roaring trade. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

LONDON // ‘Supercar season’ has long been the domain of the super-rich — but more Arab visitors to the UK are now entering the fast lane by hiring luxury motors for a fraction of the cost.

Visitors from the Arabian Gulf are known for showing off their high-value motors over summer, with some spending up to Dh70,000 to fly their cars to London for just a few weeks.

Supercar marques ranging from Aston Martin to Bugatti were spotted in areas like Knightsbridge and Mayfair last year, sporting number-plates from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

Some local residents have complained about the annual “invasion”, saying that the cars are noisy, and that some drivers are dangerous or do not pay local parking fines and speeding tickets.

But while uber-wealthy Arab tourists have developed a reputation, for better or worse, over the annual parade of their $1 million-plus cars, many others are becoming part of the UK’s supercar scene for as little as Dh1,400.

The London-based Signature Car Hire, which has one of the largest fleets of luxury cars in the UK, says it has seen a “growing market” in bookings from Middle Eastern customers.

Dee Bhatia, the firm’s founder and chief executive, said his customer base has included royals from the UAE and Qatar, although he declined to specify names.

“They are discerning clients who know exactly what they want. We have been known to buy a car specifically because a VIP client requested it,” Bhatia said.

Rival UK-based rental firm Supercar Experiences also reports a steady increase in customers from the Middle East.

It offers models like the Porsche 911 Carrera or Range Rover Vogue to hire for around Dh1,400 a day, while the Ferrari 430 Spider F1 goes for £595 (Dh3,300).

The Lamborghini Aventador LP700 — the firm’s most expensive car available for general hire — is available for a whopping £1,995.00 per 24 hours.

Nik Hardwick, managing director of Supercar Experiences, said the firm had seen a lot a clients from the UAE, mainly during the summer months.

“We’ve had the princes, the sheikhs, the billionaires,” he said. “They’ve all got cars back home. But a lot of people decide to hire rather than bringing their own cars over.”

Supercar Experiences, founded 11 years ago, has about 20 cars in its fleet, and access to 40 more. Popular marques among Arab clients include Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Range Rover, Mr Hardwick said.

About 20 per cent of the firm’s revenue comes from Middle Eastern clients, with business from the region “growing every year”. Demand is so strong that this summer the firm plans to start renting out cars in the UAE via a local partner, Mr Hardwick added.

Gulf national Bandar A S, who did not wish to give his surname, said he has rented Lamborghinis from Supercar Experiences several times — sometimes for as long as three weeks.

“What better car to drive than the Lamborghini?” asked Bandar, who is chief executive of a technology company and lives in Dubai and Riyadh.

Despite driving several cars at home, including a Mercedes and Range Rover, Bandar said he does not like to fly his own automobiles to the UK. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said. “There’s the insurance [and] paperwork.”

Despite these issues, the number of Arabian Gulf residents flying their cars to the UK for the summer season is increasing, according to shipping firms.

Daniel Hallworth, managing director of Dan Car Logistics, based in Manchester in the UK, said his firm helped handle 35-40 Arab-owned cars flown to the country last year.

That number is rising every year, Mr Hallworth said. “It’s always in the summer — they come here for a bit of a chill out, and a cool down,” he said.

But such a service does not come cheap. To fly a Lamborghini Aventador — one of the priciest supercars on the market — from Abu Dhabi to London would cost up to £12,000 (Dh67,000) for a return journey, Mr Hallworth said.

Other car-hire services insisted that renting a supercar in the UK is still cheaper than flying your own from the Middle East.

Hertz Supercars says one of its most popular models among Middle Eastern clients is the Range Rover Vogue, which it rents out at £335 per day.

“Hertz Supercars is most definitely a good alternative to flying one’s own car to London, as it is considerably more convenient in terms of costs and logistics,” said Neil Cunningham, UK general manager at Hertz.

Chris Domoney, business development director at Avis Prestige in the UK, said his firm was seeing more and more customers from the Arab world, especially from the UAE and Qatar.

“A lot of the chaps like the high-end sports cars — especially the quintessentially British cars like the Jaguar,” he said. “We’re finding that people want something more than the regular car.”

newsdesk@thenational.ae