India's flashy new rich drive luxury car boom

Tue Jan 3, 2012 10:06am EST
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By Henry Foy

MUMBAI (Reuters) - From farmers who swapped fields for cash to 20-something CEOs that inherited the family business, hot new money is flooding India's luxury car market as roaring sportscar engines announce the country's growing wealth on its roads.

No senior Indian executive feels complete without his sleek German-made saloon, while Italian sportscars are the new calling cards for the country's rich young things at exclusive nightclubs that screen guests at the main gate, not at the door.

"There is a rush to luxury," says Mohan Mariwala, managing director of Auto Hangar, surrounded by gleaming Mercedes Benz sportscars in one of his four Mumbai showrooms for luxury cars.

"Farmers, tiny industrial families, the younger generation with different value systems...You can't imagine the kind of people who invest in extremely exotic cars today."

Headline growth in Asia's third-largest economy may be stuttering, but decades of growth has spawned a new upper class with global tastes and aspirations that is driving a $1 billion luxury car market expanding at 40 percent annually, say industry analysts and research firms.

Five years ago, Daimler AG's Mercedes Benz was the only established luxury carmaker in India and sightings of sports cars on the dusty and poorly-maintained roads were rare.

Today, crowds gather along Mumbai's famous seafront to catch a glimpse of supercar parades, while a Facebook group for luxury car sightings explodes with excited chatter over a blurry photo of an Aston Martin Rapide, a car that costs more than $300,600 in a country where more than 500 million people live on less than $1.25 a day.

"The new Indian luxury consumer is pursuing a lifestyle where owning exclusive items and owning them first is a clear sign of wealth and power," Andrea Baldi, Southeast Asia and Pacific sales manager for Lamborghini, told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>People watch sports and luxury cars at a "Super Car Show" in Mumbai April 5, 2009. Over 40 luxury and sports cars were showcased in the one-day show and entourage. REUTERS/Arko Datta</p>