Nick Lam is a modern-day matchmaker: He connects his elite clientele with the perfect cars.
The 25-year-old co-founder and CEO of New York Auto Depot makes it his business to help rich Chinese college students navigate the American car market and buy ultra-luxury vehicles.
Most of the Chinese students who come to America and purchase their first cars "don't know what they are talking about: what this button's for or ... that after buying a car, you need to pay tax," Lam said. "I'll also help them get a better price, because they don't know how to negotiate with American people — that's why they come to me."
Lam knows from firsthand experience. Soon after he came to New York from Hong Kong in 2009 to attend Stony Brook University, he purchased a car so he could deliver pizza for Papa John's. But it turned out to be a poor decision.
"In just four months it had brake problems, engine problems, transmission problems," he said. So he turned to books, magazines and YouTube to learn what was ailing his car.
From there, his small business began organically. Friends and acquaintances would ask him to accompany them to dealerships to supervise and advise on their purchases, thanking him with free meals.
As more Chinese students sought his expertise, he began to charge them. Soon, dealerships even came to him, soliciting his promotion among the young, affluent group.
But Lam wasn't content to be just a middle-man for dealers. He decided to open up his own dealership.
New York Auto Depot has cultivated a regular customer base at 19 universities, but is always reaching out to more schools with events and social media advertisements.
According to Lam, there are several kinds of Chinese citizens studying in the U.S. The first: students who are "geeks" and just want to focus on their studies and will settle for cheap or public transportation. They're followed by those with a "limited" budget of $20,000 to $60,000 and can purchase a "very decent car" like a BMW or Lexus. And then there are the elite clients.
"There's another group of people: Their parents are super rich. They come to America, and they say, 'The price of the cars are so cheap,' so they buy a luxury car like a Lamborghini or a Ferrari," he said.
Lam is doing more and more business with this last group. His company sells about 60 cars per month at an average price of $30,000, but luxury high-end vehicles now account for around 20 percent of his sales, he said. The most expensive car Lam has ever sold approached $800,000, he told CNBC.
Elite cars in China can cost more than 250 percent of their U.S. price, he said, so wealthy students are eager to snap up the deals.
"When Chinese students come to America, [they think] the price is reasonable," Lam said. "[They think] if we have a certain amount of money, why don't we just buy one?"