Several sounds are associated with small Indian towns. The chatter of housewives across terraces complaining about their daughters-in-law; a knife-sharpener at work; the morning aarti bells at the local mandir and the ringing of a million bicycle bells, almost drowning out the vroom of the V6 turbo-charged Porsche Boxster driving through the streets. Say what?
In the last few years, luxury car sales in towns such as Aurangabad, Raipur, Meerut, Surat etc, have shown a steady rise, turning more than a few heads as they turn those narrow street corners. “About 25-30 per cent of our customers fall outside Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata,” says Ashish Chordia, chairman of the Shreyans Group, which deals in luxury car brands such as Maserati, Porsche and Ferrari.
In these 393 such cities (with a population of one to 10 lakh, according to the 2001 Census), economic growth has increased spending power, whether it’s farmers who have cashed in on the real estate boom or the rise of business barons in mining, food processing etc; or, in some cases, even doctors.
“In tier-2 cities, liberalisation brought exposure to international markets and relationships with foreign clients. People visit the US/EU markets and see these cars. They also want to flaunt power. Owning a BMW or Mercedes makes you visible in the community. This helps you get even more business. If an Aurangabad businessman picks up a client from Pune in an Audi, it makes a difference,” says Nawneet Pandey of Raygain Technologies, a market research firm which has studied the growth of the luxury car segment in India. This awareness, combined with the spread of dealerships across India and infrastructure improvements that have made driving conditions for premium luxury cars infinitely better, has meant that people are buying them by the garage full.
Attitudes have also changed. People want to spend money in their own lifetime. “Older generations had a habit of putting the brakes on spending. This has been replaced by a ‘if you have it, go spend it and it’s okay to go spend it’ attitude,” says Radha Chadha, a marketing and consumer insights expert.
So high-end models such as the Mercedes S-class, BMW 7-series, Porsche Cayenne and Audi’s sublime R8 are showing up in increasing numbers in various corners of the country. “In an economy where new money is created, expenditure on symbols that demonstrate money and esteem happens. Especially among men, who usually buy watches and cars first,” adds Chadha. Numbers support her claim. The overall growth of the Indian car market last year, at 25 per cent, paled in comparison to the 70 per cent growth of the premium car segment.
Sociologists say such ostentatious spending is rooted in the desire to show off social mobility, partly by emulating the upper classes. Vishnu Mathur, director general, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, supports this theory. “People don’t know what to do with quick and large sums of money. Forget cars, they are buying helicopters.” It seems, for some of them, the sky is literally the limit.
Arshbir Singh, 22
At 22, Jalandhar-based Arshbir Singh, who has just joined his father’s leather exports business, owns two Mercedes S Class cars. One is the latest S350 with an on-road price tag of R85 lakh and the other is an S320 with an on-road price tag of R80 lakh. “The quality of the S class attracted me,” says Singh. “It is clean, quiet and provides pure luxury. Its sensors tell the driver about everything, from the tyres to the engine. When I’m behind the wheel, I feel as though I’m flying.” A shooter who qualified for the Nationals, Singh once represented Uttar Pradesh and aspires to represent Punjab now. “I like driving high-end cars,” he adds. Jalandhar has more than 400 high-end cars.
He loves watching car races, but is himself a sensible driver. The owner of a Mercedes SLK convertible (his favourite among four high-end cars), exporter Mahin Soleja has been attracted to high-speed luxury cars since he first began travelling abroad on business. Watching the F1 races just added to their aura.
“My convertible Mercedes has a Formula 1 finish that makes it look stunning,” he says. “And its convertible top opens up in just 22 seconds. And it has immense power that makes it a pleasure to drive.” It isn’t easy to maintain such a high-end car in such a tiny city where all cars, big or small, crawl bumper to bumper. But Kanpur-based Soleja doesn’t care. “I have to send my car to Lucknow for servicing but I don’t mind. This is not just a car. It’s my passion.”
Javed Pradhan, 51
A seller of school uniforms in Raipur for two decades, 51-year-old Javed Pradhan switched to the real estate business around the mid-90s.
With success, his craze for premium cars grew. The owner of a Mercedes Benz and a Land Rover, Pradhan can’t forget how happy he was when he bought his first car, a second-hand Fiat in 1987. Now, he has eight cars including a Mercedes Benz, a Land Rover, an Innova, and a CRV among others.“I was always driven by the desire to own high-end vehicles because of their features and special advantages,” says Pradhan. “I don’t employ a driver.” The father of two sons says he wants to own status symbols not to show off, but for a feeling of gratification.
Raipur offers a good potential market to premium auto manufacturers. Luxury cars with prices ranging from R35 to R90 lakh have a market of at least twelve cars per month in Chhattisgarh. As of now, customers from Chhattisgarh travel to other states to procure expensive cars. Pradhan bought his Mercedes Benz from Kolkata and Land Rover from Hyderabad. “I travel frequently and drive for several hours every day for business purposes,” he says. “Even when I go on vacation with my family, I prefer my own car.”
Sandeep Singh Wahid, 30
At 30, Phagwara-based Sandeep Singh Wahid (Sunny), a successful industrial tycoon in sugar and power production, owns two high-end cars: a Porsche Carrera S and an Audi Q7.
The Carrera S is a sports racing car and comes with a price tag of R1.27 crore. Since Wahid customised it to his specifications, the car cost him a total of Rs 1.5 crore.
“This car is for my driving pleasure and I use it only on special occasions,” says Wahid. “It’s very satisfying to command so much power with just a push of the gas pedal.”
Wahid inherits his love of high-end cars from his father, Jarnail Singh Wahid, and owns quite a fleet, including a Mercedes S class car. His other premium car is an Audi Q7 which, after customisation (including a special sports kit, a Bose music system, bigger wheels and panorama roof), cost him R80 lakh. Both these cars were purchased in 2011, bringing the total of luxury cars in Phagwara to over 50. “I work for six to seven days a week and put the rest of my time in driving my cars,” says Wahid.
Niraj Singh, 38
His son loves it, but his wife still wants to know why he needed such an expensive car. However, 38-year-old hotelier Niraj Singh has a very strong reason for buying a Jaguar XJ. “It was love at first sight,” he says simply. Singh saw the car at the Kolkata showroom and booked it instantly. “I had no clue that I was the first customer from East India to purchase the car that my iconic film star Amitabh Bachchan also drives. It’s an unusual car. I am still to understand all its salient features.”
Driving this car in a small industrial city like Jamshedpur comes with a price. “I am often stopped by people at clubs, parties, even while travelling in the city, with queries about the car,” says Singh. He also owns a Skoda Superb, an Endeavour and a Pajero.
Shaibi Farooq, 28
This 28-year-old builder bought his BMW III-series last September on Id-ul-Fitr. Shaibi Farooq is passionate about cars and now has his eyes fixed on the sports utility vehicle (SVU) Audi Q7 as a future purchase. “I started driving a Maruti 800 when I was in class 10 and soon got an Esteem fitted with the best of music equipment. Then many more cars came and the BMW is the latest,” says Lucknow-based Shaibi, the owner of a construction firm and the lifestyle lounge, Blue. Why this car? “I studied all cars but finally bought this from Delhi. It has a superior front bonnet and attractive grill, making it a head turner. And its interiors are matchless,” he says. “It’s a pleasure to drive. I never let my driver take the wheel.”
Rakesh Kohli, 52
For years, 52-year-old Rakesh Kohli, the Meerut-based chairman of sports goods makers Stag International, has been passionate about high-speed luxury cars. Now he enjoys every second he spends in his Audi, a gift from his younger brother and son on his 25th marriage anniversary. “We have the same aspirations for these expensive cars as do people of bigger towns, but so far we’ve been apprehensive of flaunting our wealth,” he says. Now, however, he adds, as more and more luxury cars find homes in small towns, people are no longer afraid of being exposed to criminals.
Sanjeev Pratap, 45
High-end cars are the newest craze among those who can afford them, acknowledges 45-year-old Sanjeev Pratap, a sportsman and real estate dealer in Meerut. Pratap is the proud possessor of a BMW-X5 and a Mercedes C 200. “I bought these cars because they fascinate me,” he says. “I love driving and travelling in cars like this.” Next on his shopping list is a Posche Cayenne.
Daksh Vats, 28
His two-seater BMW Z-4 is a dream come true for 28-year-old Meerut-based businessman Daksh Vats. “I’ve wanted this car since I was in class 9,” says Daksh. “Speed is another love!” Vats, who works in the paper industry, loves the speed, luxury and convertibility of his car. And he is also aware of the effect that a car like this has on the general public. It’s a great way to show off, he acknowledges. And that has a tremendous impact on his business. “I often visit my clients and my high end car acts as a dividend for me,” he says. “Any meeting begins from the driveway and parking lot of your destination. So a car means a lot to your business.”
Dr AS Prasad, 54
Luxury cars are not a status symbol for Dr AS Prasad. Besides taking them on long drives Dr Prasad, a leading orthopaedic surgeon in Kanpur, uses his Audis to carry his surgery equipment.
Dr Prasad’s love for sports cars was born when he was in Germany and drove a Porsche. Before long, he bought his own sports car. In 2006, he brought home the Audi TT. “I’m a music buff and the 16-speaker surround Audi Q5 lets me enjoy music in a delightful way,” says Dr Prasad. “And my Audi TT is a real treat to drive, especially in the beautiful hills.”
Dr Prasad loves road trips. A year ago, he let his Audi rip at 180 kmph and made it from Allahabad to Kanpur in 90 minutes. His big dream is to drive to Ladakh in his Audi Q5. “I have already researched the route. I bought my Audi Q5 this year just for this.”
From HT Brunch, July 3
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