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Straight-talking luxury car dealer Tom Hartley had a simple message for the delegates at Car Dealer Live: ‘Sorry guys – but I hate electric cars!’

Hartley was taking part in our luxury dealer panel session at Friday’s event, held at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, where he was joined by Tom Jaconelli, head of buying and marketing at Romans International and a director of the business, and H.R. Owen chief technical officer Brett Ward.

Explaining his lack of enthusiasm for electric cars, Hartley, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement trophy at the 2021 Car Dealer Used Car Awards, said: ‘They’re just not for me. I like to smell the petrol… I like to hear the engine and the noise.

‘Supercar buyers are performance car buyers and enthusiasts – and I’m not an electric person.’

Asked if there was a role for electric cars in the luxury market, Jaconelli said: ‘They do have their place, I think. A lot of our clients have fleets of cars, so there can be a place for an electric car within that fleet.

‘The Rolls-Royce Spectre, for example, is the perfect electric car – Rolls-Royce are all about quietness and smoothness, after all.

‘Having said that, our clients are 90 per cent pure petrolheads. They want to feel the engine running, they want to hear the exhaust.

‘If electric cars took over, it would not be good for our business – it would end us – but I don’t think they will. There’s a place for them but I can’t ever see them taking over.’

The role of social media was another of the subjects on the table during a fascinating 30-minute conversation on the Car Dealer Live stage.

Hartley said: ‘I’m very old-school. If you’d told me 10 years ago, how I’d be interacting on social media today, I’d have said you were mad – but it’s become a big part of my life.

‘We now have a great following and we have a loyal following.

‘Our followers are interested in our brand and interested in the cars we buy and sell. I like to interact on social media personally, and I’m very outspoken – I say things that some people love and some people hate.

‘I’m me – I don’t pretend to be something I’m not – I’m a car dealer from Scotland who has worked all his life. I am a very humble car dealer despite my profile and I’m a people person.’

Jaconelli said: ‘As a branding exercise, social media has been massive for us. We have grown our brand over the years – and social media, across a variety of platforms, has been the main reason for that.

‘Our video work is slightly different. One of our YouTube videos can be a 20-minute watch, obviously quite different from a three-second Instagram clip.

‘But if you can engage your client base for an extended period of time, it can be incredibly rewarding. You can build trust and people will remember you more if they have seen a video that’s been helpful.

‘Social media has been massively important for us. I wouldn’t say it sells cars by itself but it’s a very good touchpoint.

Instincts and insights

‘We did a poll of our customers and discovered that at least 70% follow us on social media, so it’s clearly a big thing for us.’

Another key issue for luxury and supercar dealers is pricing – a potentially tricky area as datasets for high-end performance vehicles are naturally far smaller than those relating to volume sellers.

Jaconelli referred to the phrase ‘instincts and insights,’ saying: ‘That is what it comes down to.’

He added: ‘With a lot of the cars we sell, there will be some on the market, some of which will have been sold by us, but then gut feel comes into it because the specs can be very different.

‘Timing can play a part too – a certain car might have been great news last year but not so much this year.

‘We’ll discuss it amongst our team and mention anything that we’re a little bit unsure about.

‘But you have to take some risks. Sometimes you set the market price yourself. It’s a little bit of science and a little bit of gut – and hopefully, you’ll arrive at the right decision.’

Ward summed up in one word how his company prices cars – ‘Carefully’.

He continued: ‘The price of some of the models we sell can change over the course of a weekend, let alone a year.

‘We have very experienced managers and buyers within the business. We keep our own data and we import AutoTrader’s too.

‘It would be great to have a greater volume of data but there aren’t huge numbers of the cars we sell on the roads.’

As ever, Hartley was clear: ‘It’s quite simple. Gut feeling and experience is far better than research and training.’

And how is business looking for the rest of 2024?

‘Cautiously optimistic’ was the verdict from Jaconelli. He said: ‘We’ve had a pretty good start to the year. We’re not exactly flying like we were a couple of years ago but things are pretty good.

‘If interest rates start to come down in the latter part of the year, that’s going to give people more encouragement.’

And Hartley concluded: ‘If you turn up to work and you’re there to do the deal, you can’t do any more than that.’

Pictured at top from left are Car Dealer founder James Baggott, Tom Hartley, Tom Jaconelli and Brett Ward

All of the sessions at Car Dealer Live, which was headline-partnered by Auto Trader, can be watched back on the website with a replay ticket and are available on video to watch at your leisure.

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