How the super rich ship their luxury cars around the world

Ameerh Naran is relentlessly international. Born and raised in Zimbabwe to an Indian family of shoemakers, he once became Harare’s first importer of sex toys. After going on to make millions in private aviation (his planes have been used by celebrities, politicians and on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”), he now spends most of his time in Dubai and London — which can present logistical challenges for driving his fleet of cars.

“I have a rare Porsche Carrera GT that cost me £1.5m ($1.9m) and I keep it at the airport in Dubai,” says Naran, whose company, Vimana Private Jets, also has offices in Los Angeles and New York. “If I fly anywhere, Emirates will put it on the earliest flight to wherever I’m going so my car meets me there.”

Naran, who’s 38, is one of thousands of wealthy car owners who think little of buying plane tickets for their automobiles, taking advantage of specialist freight services for cars that many of the major airlines offer, particularly those based in the Middle East. An ecosystem of car transport specialists has evolved to work with the airlines and the family offices of the ultra-rich so that favored vehicles magically follow them around the globe.

It’s traditionally a busy time of year for these services as the richest residents of the Gulf states prepare to jet off to cooler climes for the summer after Ramadan. The last time Naran flew his Porsche from Dubai to London on Emirates, he says it cost £28,000 ($36,000) — a little more than he could have paid after landing for a brand-new Golf at a West London Volkswagen dealership. But then serious car guys tend not to want to be seen in family hatchbacks.

Hallworth's business, Dan Car Logistics, ships more than 100 flash cars a year. - Daniel Hallworth
Hallworth's business, Dan Car Logistics, ships more than 100 flash cars a year. - Daniel Hallworth

“I also have jet clients who are very wealthy and less price sensitive than me and don’t want to put their cars on commercial airlines, in which case they’ll charter a cargo plane from us, which costs in the millions,” Naran tells me from Cape Town where’s he’s just arrived for a wedding, without the need for a car.

The ultra-wealthy will often take whole fleets of cars with them when they travel, loading vehicles, along with motorbikes and other toys, onto chartered cargo aircraft that follow their private jets. Covered trucks are used to complete journeys to clients’ addresses or garages; owners baulk at the idea of random delivery drivers adding mileage to their beloved cars.

Naran says his richest clients barely blink at such excesses; one recently chartered a cargo plane to be ready to fly straight away when his newly acquired Samsung TV wouldn’t fit through the door of his own jet. Rare cars can be worth millions, but not always. “I have one client who transports a Nissan Patrol 4x4” Naran says. “I can’t imagine that it’s worth anything, but he likes it and it’s costing him millions to fly it around with his Bugatti.”

Dan Hallworth started shipping cars about 15 years ago after cutting his teeth at his uncle’s freight firm in Manchester, England, after finishing school. Back then he says most of the business was in the summer and tended to involve cars coming from the Middle East to London. Newspapers used to be full of reports of hypercars roaring around chichi parts of the British capital at the hands of Qatari princes who cared little for speed limits or the parking fines they collected outside luxury department store Harrods.

Most of Hallworth's clients are based in the Middle East, and include a few royals. - Daniel Hallworth
Most of Hallworth's clients are based in the Middle East, and include a few royals. - Daniel Hallworth

Hallworth, who says he can send a car between Dubai and London for around £10,000 ($13,000) on cheaper airlines, says the market has changed since then. Police and councils in London started to clampdown on the showiest drivers, and viral videos of watch muggings and other crimes have put many of his clients off London. “Now they go skiing and everything like that and it’s much more all-year-round,” says Hallworth, whose company, Dan Car Logistics, now ships more than 100 vehicles a year by air and thousands more by road.

His clients are still mostly based in the Middle East and include royal families. He recently transported a “humongous” Mercedes to Los Angeles for £20,000 ($25,000) and a £12m ($15.3m) bespoke Bugatti Chiron Hermes edition to Marbella, Spain, for a Qatari prince. If anything, he says, the flow of wheels has reversed; he’s often transporting cars from London to Dubai for people travelling or doing business there.

It’s a trend the airlines are noticing too; Etihad Cargo tells me the greatest demand for its FlightValet car shipping service is now in the UK. More than half of the 139 shipments of 151 cars it flew in 2023 originated from Heathrow, mostly bound for Abu Dhabi and Dubai. December was the busiest month, and the biggest destinations for cars leaving the UAE were Frankfurt, Zurich and Chicago.

Some of Hallworth's clients have been put off storing cars in cities like London. - Daniel Hallworth
Some of Hallworth's clients have been put off storing cars in cities like London. - Daniel Hallworth

Etihad will only deal with registered freight agents rather than individuals — cars are considered to be “dangerous goods” and the paperwork required for them to clear customs can be extensive. Hallworth, who’s 33, says an annual insurance policy covers all his work, the cost of which he includes in his fees. Occasionally he politely declines new customers if things seem, well, a little off.

“We always want the owner’s ID, the registration documents of the cars and to get a feel of the customer,” he says. “You don’t want to be just, like, ‘yeah I can do that’, and the next minute you’ve got a stolen car on a plane and some serious questions to answer.”

Like Naran, who is now developing his own hypercar (the Naran will be yours for north of £2m or $2.6m), Hallworth has grown his business thanks to word-of-mouth marketing at the highest levels. This can occasionally present him with tricky requests. “I’ve been asked to transport horses and camels,” he says. “It’s not really my bag, and I would never say yes to a job if I’m not 100% sure the cargo is going to be alive when it arrives.”

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