Dreamfleet president Edmond Helstab at the company's Toronto launch
Dreamfleet president Edmond Helstab at the company’s Toronto launch. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

This is the season for convertibles: drop the top on a hot summer night and just go cruising. But that ragtop might not be as appealing when it’s clad in winter tires and its top is covered in snow. Likewise, the 4×4 SUV that effortlessly takes the family to the ski hill in winter might be overkill for the concrete jungle in July.

It occurred to Edmond Helstab that there might be a better way, and in May, he launched Dreamfleet Automobile Club. A combination of leasing and lifestyle, the company allows clients to drive a different vehicle every year, change cars in summer and winter, or lease for just six months.

“My family had a Volkswagen dealership in 1952 in Welland (Ontario),” Helstab says. “What stuck with me, as a young man, was being able to drive whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to drive it. I wanted to make that available to the general public, with no cost burden. It’s been in the works for fifteen years, and as far as I know, we’re the only company like this. There are fractional ownerships in the U.S. on high-end vehicles, and at the lower end there’s car sharing, but there’s nothing like this. This is reachable luxury.”

Currently, Dreamfleet is operating in the Greater Toronto, Niagara and Ottawa regions of Ontario, although Helstab says he’s had interest from Vancouver and Montreal, and hopes to expand the service. The company launched with a cocktail party in Toronto’s historic Distillery District in May.

The Dreamfleet launch was held in Toronto's historical Distillery District
The Dreamfleet launch was held in Toronto’s historical Distillery District. Click image to enlarge

All clients sign up for a three-year membership. From there, they choose the program best suited to them. The Collection Program is three different vehicles over three years, or two vehicles at a year and a half each; the Seasonal Program switches vehicles each summer and winter; the Occasional Program is for six months; and the Release Program is a traditional style of lease. Depending on the program, clients select from various vehicles, with a value anywhere from $25,000 to over $90,000. “We’re still filling the ‘hoppers’, determining what vehicles we will be providing,” Helstab says. “We have signed partnerships with such companies as BMW, Lexus, Mini, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen, Land Rover, Audi, Jaguar, Acura and Smart, and we’re currently working with Porsche. We have access to all brands for leasing, but cars from signed partners will have a favourable rate.”

City dwellers might like to take the diminutive Smart for summer transportation
City dwellers might like to take the diminutive Smart for summer transportation.Click image to enlarge

The various programs are designed to accommodate as many clients as possible; the six-month program may appeal to “snowbirds” who go south for the winter. The seasonal program may seem to favour convertibles in Summer, but that’s not necessarily so. “Like a timeshare, there are premium months,” Helstab says. “So somebody who could not normally afford a BMW 645 convertible, for example, could have one in winter, when the rates on that vehicle go down.”

What did surprise Helstab was the clientele who expressed interest in the program. He was initially expecting to see mostly younger men and women who wanted to stretch their automotive dollars. “Instead, we’re attracting people who operate their own businesses, or are directors or chairmen of companies,” he says. “We’re seeing 35- to 60-year-olds, more mature and well-off. Their time is important, and they want to make sure they can easily get the car they want. And they’re looking at vehicles that are $60,000 to $110,000. They want the higher price range.”

Those who prefer all-wheel drive for winter can switch to a vehicle such as the Audi Q7
Those who prefer all-wheel drive for winter can switch to a vehicle such as the Audi Q7. Click image to enlarge

These are the sort of people the company has in mind for its “lifestyle community” outlook. This isn’t just a leasing business; membership also includes a subscription to Driven: Life In Motion magazine and Simply AudioBooks, discounts on accessories from such companies as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and upcoming events such as wine tastings. There’s a “Connoisseur’s Package” that includes a share of wine from Tawse Winery in Ontario’s Niagara region, and in future the company plans to team with Driven Travel to offer exclusive travel packages.

“The idea is to provide short-term flexibility, based on a long-term structure,” Helstab says. “Snowbirds may only want a summer car, so they use the summer program, without any headaches of storing a car in the winter. The occasional program can help people with parking problems. The release program helps people who want to be rid of the headaches of leasing, and want someone to handle it for them. The program is growing based on our clients’ needs. This will become what our clients want it to become.”

For more information, visit www.dreamfleet.com.

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