Published 5:03 a.m. ET Dec. 28, 2020
It is an oasis of opulence at Interstate 95 and Butler Boulevard, its landscaped driveways and second-floor balcony bedecked with brand-new $200,000 Bentleys and $100,000 Maserati's.
But with new-car sales down this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, how is Mario Murgado’s 40,987-square-foot dealership at 7137 Bonneval Road doing after opening in the middle of it all?
Jacksonville’s purveyor of prestige at the highest end said they have done "very well" so far, averaging about four new Bentleys a month since opening June 18, with others on order. Murgado expects that trend to continue as he sells many more new Bentleys, Alfa Romeo's and Maserati's as well as a plethora of pre-owned high-end Rolls-Royces, Ferraris, Jaguars and other premium product parked on his sales floors.
“As a Bentley store, we finished 19th in the country in September. And we have really focused well on what we believe is our future. Our future is we sell a lot of new, but we sell a lot of certified pre-owned cars,” Murgado said. “… I believe it is a product that we will sell on an average anywhere between eight to 12 new vehicles when we start rolling more. I believe that we will sell equally as many certified pre-owned Bentleys, maybe a little more.”
While COVID-19 presents challenges every day, Bentley is weathering them, U.S. spokesman Jeff Kuhlman said. The company began 2020 on a roll after 11,006 vehicles were sold in 2019, 2,913 of them in the 50-plus dealerships in the United States, Bentley’s No. 1 market. That was a worldwide 30 percent increase from 2018 and the seventh consecutive year above 10,000 sales.
“In Crewe [England] the plant shut down for four weeks, which presented us with some delays of vehicles,” he said. “However, when the plant resumed operations, the team in Crewe started at about 50 percent and quickly ramped up production, which helped to restore the flow of vehicles to the market.”
It was mid-2018 when Bentley, Murgado and Mayor Lenny Curry announced the new dealership at a Prime Osborn Convention Center news conference, the dealer saying the city was “thirsty for the ultra-luxury brand.” Originally due to open in April, it took two more months to begin operations that also include Jacksonville’s second Alfa Romeo and Maserati dealerships.
“Florida already had seven Bentley dealerships, so to add this store was also another dynamic that I had to get across,” Murgado said. “... Every delay I had here was not the city. It was a delay basically as vendors and we couldn’t get things due to the pandemic, things coming from abroad on ships.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also caused a 19 percent drop in overall national auto sales at the end of 2020’s third quarter compared to the same time in 2019, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. That said, Bentley’s U.S. sales increased 22 percent from January through September 2020, over the first three quarters of last year, Kuhlman said.
He said having a very new lineup of products helped, from its Continental GT coupe and convertible and Bentayga SUV to 626-hp flagship Flying Spur.
“And Bentley dealers have been conducting very savvy intimate events for a few people, reservations required, and CDC guidelines applied, to encourage customers to experience these new vehicles,” Kuhlman said.
As a new car storage system is built on the dealership’s south side, Murgado also points to Alfa Romeo just refreshing its Stelvio crossover and Giulia sports sedan, while Maserati just introduced its MC20 supercar, with the all-electric 2021 Gran Turismo and Gran Cabrio coming. Bentley's new Beyond100 strategy will see it switch to plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicles by 2026, and full electric by 2030.
“I couldn’t be happier to have Bentley with the new portfolio on hand,” Murgado said. “It is very helpful. You can be the best dealer in the world, but at the end of the day it is still your partner, that manufacturer, that has to design a car that has the desirability from the consumer standpoint.”
Murgado said Jacksonville is where much of his sales are coming from, plus some as far north as Sea Island, Ga., and Amelia Island and down to St. Augustine. Prior to his operation, Bentley’s closest Southeastern dealerships were in Atlanta and Orlando.
“No one wants to buy a car if they have to go to Orlando to service it,” he said. “… The way I look at bringing Bentley here, it’s almost like saying that you’ve made it, you’ve arrived. When you win an NFL team, you’re unique. As a city, not everyone does.”
Murgado has 18 dealerships in South Florida, Chicago and New Jersey selling Alfas to Volkswagens and everything else in between. He believes his Jacksonville customers will love having a choice and would like to earn their business on multiple cars as well as a "tailor-made" Bentley. As for those pre-owned exotics and luxury models, sales have been good —28 in September and 38 in October.
And as the pandemic continues, their concierge service picks up and delivers cars at home, each one sanitized and wrapped. That may stay, he said, since the pandemic is going to change everything.
“When things normalize, look, things will change and evolve,” Murgado said.