If Vancouver is the luxury-car capital of North America, I would venture to guess most of those purchases happen on a four-block strip that's just around the corner from a row of mid-market skate and surf shops, a person with infinite resources could hypothetically purchase a Bentley, a Ferrari, a Bugatti, a Jaguar, a McLaren, a Tesla, a Rolls-Royce, and/or a Lamborghini—all within a ten-minute walk, if walking wasn't for poor people. Add to that dozens of more high-end dealerships spread out across Metro Vancouver District.
For those of us who spend hours of our days trying not to make eye contact on public transit, the goings-on inside of a super fancy car dealership are as far away and mysterious as the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. I mean, sure, rich people are probably just like us, but do they still break out the bubbly after signing a lease on a sixth Maserati? Or is that kind of decadence only reserved for the first three?
To get a sense of what goes on inside these very secure-looking dealership buildings that should definitely not be the target of a real-life Furious heist, I called up a few women who worked in the industry. They told VICE about the sexist work culture, the surprisingly young clientele, and all the uncomfortable shit that happens when you put a bunch of rich people in a room together.
"We have a lot of very young people [shopping here,] like early 20s," Sasha* told VICE. According to her, many of them tend to be Mandarin speaking, who came to Vancouver as students. And like most students with fragile identities requiring constant attention, they tend to move in herds. "You'll have one person who has come in to buy a car, and then four friends will just be standing around texting."
Despite the entourage thing, I was surprised to learn that not much celebrating happens on the sales floor. Even when dropping six figures on an engine with wheels, post-millennials strain to make eye contact, let alone crack open the Ciroc. "They look so bored," she said. "It's like an errand to them, like they're on their way to something else."
Sasha did confirm that some rich people can be dicks. A few of them yell and act entitled and threaten to sue if they don't get their way. Some even show up smashed on painkillers or grinding their teeth from whatever white powders they railed to get out of bed that morning.
Coke habits can also extend to the sales staff, according to another former dealership employee. Handling big sales and lots of cash gives some dudes a feeling of invincibility (and that's before the drugs kick in), Ashley* told VICE. "This one guy, he would come in high, but they wouldn't fire him because he brought in the most money."
According to the people VICE spoke to, there's another toxic part of a luxury-car dealership gig: blatant misogyny. Young women employed as receptionists and assistants are treated like eye-candy to be enjoyed alongside the merchandise—something both Sasha and Ashley experienced first-hand.
"It was hard to ignore that we all look the same—young thin white girls, never saw someone over 25," Ashley told VICE. "Women are commodified just as much as the cars are—they're there to be looked at in the same way," Sasha said.
"I had a sales person tell us—this man has a couple assistants—that he will hire the prettiest young Chinese girls he can find, usually students. A few of the girls who work here actually own our cars. He would talk about girls who worked here before, the ones who weren't as pretty, and literally say 'She's not [car brand].' You have to have a certain look."
Though sexist dickheads operate in pretty much any industry, Sasha said being asked on dates at work apparently also goes along with the gig. "A lot of the older men will be openly flirtatious," she said. "You're very much encouraged to be a bubbly, and a flirty person." Some of the dealers seem to think it's fine to pass on names and phone numbers between young women staff and older men buying cars without asking first. "They'll make jokes, like, 'Oh, don't report me to HR.'"
For Ashley, reporting to HR wasn't funny at all. She experienced full-on sexual harassment from one employee—a months-long ordeal that pushed her to leave the job. "When I first got the job, I was warned about him," she told VICE. "I was told he had a fiancé, that he was only joking." Those "jokes" apparently included insistent propositions to hook up, as well as observations on her boob size.
At a company party, Ashley said her harasser tried to corner her into having sex with him in a bathroom. When she complained to management, her boss said it was a "personal problem" she should deal with outside of work. Both Ashley and Sasha say this kind of harassment grows out of a work culture that is inherently misogynist.
Another strain of dickishness comes in the form of a middle-aged white dude who prefers "classic"-car models (you know, without all the extra vents or a camo wrap), and acts openly resentful toward the non-white 20-something customers who soup up their cars.
"People are legit angry that the majority of people buying are Chinese," Sasha said. Some customers even complain about signage in Mandarin or claim they were denied service or attention because they aren't ethnically Chinese.
Employees are also prone to make assumptions about their Mandarin-speaking clients. Sasha says they often joke about the "exporter combo"—a white exterior, with a tan interior model of sports car that they claim is commonly shipped to China.
Despite the shallow judgments of sales employees, Sasha said most customers are not necessarily terrible humans; they just have more money than they know what to do with. "One time, a father and son bought different models of the same $90,000 car. They had decided which ones they liked, drove them around for one day. They had paid to put insurance on for an entire year, and then traded one in the same day for a $10,000 loss," she said.
"They didn't seem to care," she said. "They're not thinking about the fact that the dude selling the car can't afford to buy a car from our dealership."
*Names have been changed.
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