Sat04192014

On The Road

High-end auto dealers open near Los Altos


Photo By: Photos by Gary Anderson/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Photos By Gary Anderson/Special To The Town Crier Visitors to the McLaren showroom in Palo Alto, above, can see what one of its cars looks like with and without the shell. McLaren shares space with Fisker, which sells high-end cars of its own.

More and more, we’re convinced our immediate area is becoming the center of the universe, with all the headquarters of high-tech companies and research and development facilities close to one of the leading universities in the world.

More proof that this may be true is the establishment late last year of the Fisker and McLaren dealerships on the corner of El Camino Real and Arastradero Road in Palo Alto, not far from the Los Altos border.

The Fisker automobile is the brainchild of automobile designer and developer Henrik Fisker. Fisker is on the cutting-edge of electronic and environmental automotive technology, and has close ties to the local venture capital community. The English-based McLaren Group is perhaps less well-known, at least by anyone who doesn’t follow international motorsports, but has been in the business of building high-performance racing cars since 1963. It recently expanded into building bespoke street cars.

Genie and I visited the dual dealership in June, meeting with managing director Gary Anderson (Yes, indeed; only our middle names are different). Anderson has been in the automobile business for many years, with companies like Smythe European.

For him, managing dealerships for two of the most influential automobile companies in the world is more than a dream come true. He said that even as a gearhead kid, the idea that McLaren – a Formula 1 constructor – would be building a street car was almost as inconceivable as the idea that a high-performance sedan would someday be powered by two electric motors, with batteries recharged by a gasoline engine, much less that he might be representing their companies.

Well-known Bay Area entrepreneur and automobile enthusiast Tom Price, who owns other high-end dealerships in the region, owns the McLaren and Fisker dealerships in Palo Alto.

It is a rarified universe in which Anderson operates – there are only 49 Fisker dealerships in North America. Even rarer, there are only nine McLaren dealers on the continent. The companies, incidentally, are not connected, but there are shared reasons why small companies like these would want to locate on the border of Los Altos and Palo Alto.

The obvious reasons are the demographics. These cars primarily engage affluent, intelligent customers who enjoy being early adopters of interesting technology and appreciate hand-built, high-performance machinery.

Anderson said many of his customers own one of both cars, even though the cars are vastly different in price and technology.

McLaren makes only one basic model, designated the MP4-12C. It is built around a carbon-fiber tub (basic chassis) in exactly the same way that a Formula 1 racecar is built. The car is powered by a relatively small 3.8-liter mid-engine that produces a breath-taking 592 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, with the capability of revving all the way up to 8,500 rpm. With the chassis and body weighing less than 3,000 pounds, the car can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. Equally impressive, it can go from 60 mph to stopped in only seven car lengths.

Obviously, a car with these capabilities isn’t inexpensive. Every car is preordered, so depending on accessories and the amount of carbon fiber one specifies in the trim pieces, prices vary from $250,000 to $325,000. Anderson said he expects to sell every unit he can get, but that won’t be many. Out of the company’s planned production of 600 cars allotted to North America this year, Anderson has been allocated 75.

The Fisker dealership may be even more technologically interesting. Here the connection with the local business community is more direct. Local entrepreneur Ray Lane, executive chairman of Hewlett-Packard and managing partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (a major investor in Fisker Automotive), is on the board of Fisker. One might occasionally see his silver Fisker Karma around town, since he took delivery of one of the first units when they went into production last year.

Given the limited production of both McLaren and Fisker automobiles in the near future, the retail automobile business would have difficulty making ends meet, so there are two more legs to Anderson’s business strategy, the sale of high-performance pre-owned automobiles and automotive service work.

The front parking area of the Fisker/McLaren dealerships (one almost wants to call it the forecourt in keeping with the international flavor of the cars) is like a good car show, featuring previously owned Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, Jaguars and BMWs lined up for inspection in front of the Karma electrical charging stations. Even the McLaren racecar on display in the window is for sale. Anderson noted that sales and service of pre-owned automobiles will represent a big part of his cash flow as Karma production ramps up over the next few years and additional models come online.

Speaking of service, Anderson was proud to show us the service bays along one side of the enclosed inner courtyard. Both Fisker and McLaren have established the high standards for their service facilities any dealer hoping to win one of these rare franchises must meet. Even by the excellent standards of other exclusive dealerships, the neatness and cleanliness were impressive.

In an area with so many high-performance cars on the streets, it’s nice to know that the dealership will offer service for cars that weren’t purchased there.

“We’ll give your Camry the same quality of service we give the McLaren and Fisker,” one of the technicians said.

Fisker and the McLaren are two of the most interesting cars in the world. Anderson and his team are justifiably proud to show off these cars, explain their technology and discuss the features of each. In an era when so many automobile dealerships seem to be going out of business, there’s something special happening when one of the major intersections along the El Camino is now occupied by a vibrant new dealership.

 

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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