To consumers, it might appear automotive dealerships are largely the same: rows of gleaming vehicles ready for a test drive, with choice specimens on the showroom floor to tempt your senses – and wallet. And there were more similarities than differences, until 14 years ago. The man behind a substantial shift in automotive retail culture is OpenRoad Auto Group founder and CEO Christian Chia, member of Area 27.
The university educated business executive has a storied driving history that begins in 1994 when a friend convinced him to enter the FIA Rally of Indonesia. “We didn’t really have a team or a car”, he says with a laugh. “I think we dropped out on the first day.” The experience resonated with him enough to call for more track time. Today he’s involved in some serious professional driving, including Porsche’s Carrera Cup Asia.
Love of the track is a family thing: Chia has two brothers, and even though the three live on different continents they share the same enthusiasm. “My first car was a hand-me-down from my middle brother”, recalls Chia. “A 1986 Toyota Corolla GTS. To this day, it’s one of my favourite cars.” The brothers get together when they can and put their driving skills to the test.
As CEO of OpenRoad, Chia’s primary focus is the retail automotive business. “My formal training is finance”, he says. “I quickly learned that wasn’t my calling.” His retail car history began overseas at Toyota. When he saw opportunity for change in the retail car business and how economies of scale could redefine automotive (that finance background), Chia launched OpenRoad. “The manufacturers we represent, it’s truly a joy. If you enjoy what you do, you really don’t work a day in your life.”
A challenge for luxury car retailers is providing clients with a place to safely learn how to drive their vehicles as intended. “Having access to a place like Area 27 is a great opportunity”, says Chia. “We don’t have anywhere to share our passion.” As a driver himself, Chia is anxious to be among fellow enthusiasts. “You’d be surprised at how friendly and accessible motorsport can be”, says Chia. “I encourage anyone to go to an event, take a professional driving program, or get to one of the events the manufacturers put on.”
With an enviable stable of cars at the ready, Chia is most looking forward to driving his Lexus LFA at Area 27. “I think it needs to stretch its legs”, he says, and then laughs. What about the friendliness he mentioned earlier? “It can be competitive”, he admits. “But there’s good camaraderie in motorsports. We’re part of something very special – on and off the track.”
Looks like we’ll be stretching our legs just to keep up, Christian. See you at the track.