Take a tour through London's secret supercar haven for the rich
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From the outside, this looks like any ordinary warehouse in West London. But lurking behind the metal shutters is a feast of the latest supercars and luxury vehicles, all of which are on 24-hour standby to be whisked to the wealthiest of clients at the drop of a hat.
Think of it as a secret Batcave of high-end cars, but instead of being concealed beneath the grounds of Wayne Manor it's cocooned by high-rise buildings and the M4 motorway.
It's the undercover hub of luxury car franchise HR Owen's VIP Services division, which allows those with deep pockets to rent anything from a 600bhp Lamborghini to a swanky Rolls-Royce for a day, week or even months at a time. You can even choose the chauffeur that comes with it.
We met the man in charge of the operation who explained that he has to treat cars like stocks and shares - buying when new products are in demand to ensure his opulent customers have the latest models at their fingertips and selling at the opportune moment so the business doesn't get crippled by crushing vehicle depreciation.
To many of us it sounds like a dream job - a seemingly endless budget to order some of the most desirable new cars on the planet. But head of VIP Services, Abbass Zadeh, has some difficult decisions to make.
On the one hand he has to ensure that his stock contains the most up-to-date, desirable models money can buy.
On the other he needs to gauge when the value of each vehicle is about to plummet and offload it before the business absorbs too much of the rapid depreciation that befalls many premium cars.
It's a difficult balancing act, and one he has to mastermind through the changing seasons. Fortunately, the split nature of HR Owen's newest division means one side of the business is always busy.
In the summer months, when there's a wave of affluent internationals descending on the capital, the 'Luxury Hire' department booms, with clients looking to get behind the wheel of Ferrari and Aston Martin sports cars to tour Knightsbridge and other London hotspots.
How much does it cost? It depends on the model. When we checked what was in stock, you could get the keys to a Bentley GTC V8 S for £650 (NZ$1,150) a day or book a Lamborghini Huracan Spyder for £1,000 (NZ$1,760).
These vehicles have a strict nine month or 9,000-mile limit. Once they surpass either of these, they're absorbed back into the HR Owen dealer network to be sold and replaced with something new. But they only tend to be sought-after when the UK is at its warmest.
When the temperatures drops in winter, the 'Chauffeur Drive' arm of the business comes into its own, with Rolls-Royces and long-wheel-base Bentleys deployed en masse to shuttle businessmen and women around the country with their favoured coffee or Cristal at the ready.
Per hour (minimum of five hours), you're looking at £65 (NZ$115) to be driven around in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, to £165 (NZ$290) if you want the limousine treatment of a long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce Phantom.
While these extravagant cars are retained for a longer period, even they have their own Profit and Loss account, where Abbass has to monitor how much capital each is generating in bookings against the value it's shedding through depreciation.
'Of course, I have a budget that I need to work towards,' Abbass responds when This is Money asked him if he ever has to reel himself in with the car orders.
'Every model we have needs to provide a service and it has to be chosen meticulously to guarantee that can happen. Anything down to the colour of the car and what features it has inside can have a massive impact on its popularity with customers, so you have to make every decision with your brain instead of your heart.'
It's an operation with no closing hours, and Abbass is permanently on call to leap into action if arrangements need to be made.
'Our business is 24 hours a day 7 days a week, so we have 20 contracted chauffeurs who work through the day and night on rotation, so someone is available at any time,' he explained.
'If a Sheikh lands in the country and gives us 45 minutes notice to get a car to the airport, we can be there.
'Even if a client needs a car in Paris or Monaco the next day we can make that happen, as long as they give us enough time to deliver it to them. We've done it in 18 hours before.'
Want more than one of these wonderfully luxurious vehicles?
That can be arranged too. In fact, it's quite a frequent request for large weddings or family holidays, he tells us.
With this sort of willingness to always say yes to its super-wealthy customer base, the business is certainly living up to its 'VIP Service' name.
And it's one that's growing at a rapid rate, expanding from a one-man operation with just four cars running out of one of HR Owen's dealerships in September 2015 to a standalone division with five team members, 33 cars and this secret undercover premises a stone's thrown from the M4, guaranteeing the best access into the city as well as main airports.
The reason for the meteoric expansion is the growing consumer shift away from car ownership - even for those with the funds to cover a dream garage filled with their own Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
Abbass said VIP Services now acts as the personal garage for this type of client, giving them the chance to 'dip in and out' of different cars without having to bear the cost of owning one of these potentially fast-to-depreciate, expensive-to-run toys.
However, it does sometimes act as a feeder service to HR Owen's dealer network.
'In some cases, a customer can end up wanting one of the cars if they've really enjoyed the hire experience - this has often been the case with the Lamborghinis we have,' Abbass said. 'Fortunately, we have the provisions to make this happen through our dealer network - if they want one of these cars, HR Owen can sell them one.'
Craig Davis, brand director at HR Owen who overseas the hire and chauffeur business, said the success was also down to 'conspicuous consumption' among clients.
'The wealth market is changing and how they view their cars is very different,' he explained.
'Many of these clients have a single parking bay under their penthouse apartments in London, so instead of just having one supercar they can have 18 here at their disposal with a hotline direct to Abbass.
'But that isn't always the case. Sometimes those with plenty of space for vehicles would rather have a discreet rotation of luxury cars rather than 15 flashy motors sat on their driveway.'
This contrast between luxury-car greed and discretion even spreads to how different people ask for their hired cars to be delivered.
While some want an inconspicuous service, with the vehicle dropped off at their premises as to not raise too much suspicion, others request for the cars to be taken to one of HR Owen's showrooms so they can experience the A-list handover process, all the while being snapped by London's growing car-spotting community.
However, this trend for being caught on camera by supercar-chasing photographers has drawn unwanted attention to London's affluent visiting community in recent years, especially those who travel from the Middle East in August and showcase their extraordinary wealth and outrageous vehicles.
These are the clients HR Owen is aiming to attract. VIP Services proposes these petrolheads spend the £30,000 to £40,000 it costs to transport their own car to the UK on hiring one of their fleet.
They'll even have one of the six-figure hire vehicle wrapped in the customer's desired colour (usually some form of metallic gold), if that's what the driver wants.
But with reckless and anti-social driving rife in London's West End during this time, is it not damaging for a brand with deep-set routes in the capital to be associated to such activity?
'The last thing we need is someone putting one of our cars into the back of a bus and us being in trouble for that reason,' Craig said. 'We don’t like to turn away business - nobody does - but you have to look at the bigger picture.
'We’re not afraid to say no to the wrong clients if necessary as we have a reputation and business wider than VIP Services to protect.
'We want the right people driving our products - we’re not looking for the 20-year-old boy racers who are going to ruin our reputation, ruin our car and potentially ruin themselves.
'That said, if they weren't driving our cars, they’d ship over their own and be doing it anyway.'
Fortunately, all drivers of HR Owen's hired vehicles are under the watchful eyes of Abbass and his team during the loan period.
Every single one of our cars has onboard trackers that gives me an idea of the driver’s behaviour... we’ve never had a case of having to take a car off a customer, yet.
'Every single one of our cars has onboard trackers that gives me an idea of the driver’s behaviour – how fast they're travelling, how high they're revving the engine, how hard they're braking,' he explained.
'From a chauffeur side, I can see which drivers are best. And from a hire point of view it gives me with the tools to provide a duty of care to the customer, the car and the public.
If someone is not driving to the standards we expect, we call them and have a nice word with them to say that they need to calm down. We’ve never had a case of having to take a car off a customer, yet.'
- Daily Mail