The luxury auto madness of Aurangabad and Kolhapur
Aurangabad and Kolhapur, both cities in the state of Maharashtra, western India, have begun an alarming new trend in conspicuous consumption which is extraordinary even by the profligate standards of India’s new urban rich. Groups of residents in both cities have banded together to set records for the number of luxury cars – BMW and Mercedes Benz – ordered in a single day!
In October 2010, a group of wealthy Aurangabad residents took delivery of 150 Mercedes Benz saloons, in a deal worth an estimated 650 million rupees for the auto brand and its regional dealer (based in the city of Pune, Maharashtra). Also in October 2010, a group of wealthy Kolhapur residents decided that if there is to be a mass purchase of luxury cars, their city should be second to none. In early December 2010, according to news reports, the group had swelled to 180 and they were aiming for 200, each of whom would place an order for a Mercedes Benz. Meanwhile, the wealthy residents of Aurangabad decided now to make a mass order of 101 BMW saloons (a deal worth an estimated 400 million rupees), which they expect to take delivery of in January 2011.
Aurangabad is a city of around 900,000 residents (2001 Census) while Kolhapur is home to around 500,000 residents (2001 Census). Until 15 years ago, both cities were centres of trade in agricultural produce, cotton and sugarcane being the respective dominant crops. The economic ‘liberalisation’ in India has clearly brought about the transformation whose effect we are seeing in the mass booking of luxury saloons. Why do these residents think their action is important?
Sacheen Mulay is the president of the Aurangabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a Mercedes Benz owner. He is reported as saying that the group of car buyers wanted to change the image of Aurangabad as a backward, sleepy destination. “Buying a 150 Mercedes is not a joke,” Mulay insisted. “We wanted recognition in the world. Aurangabad is not a small place. We are potential buyers and there are very upcoming entrepreneurs in Aurangabad.” Reportage on the Aurangabad mass buyers also mentioned that a huge shopping mall that opened last month has quickly become popular with residents, who are asking for more luxury brands, a bowling alley, and a nightclub.
Anand Mane, president of the Kolhapur Chamber of Commerce, is the point person for his city’s group of mass luxury saloon buyers. “More than 180 people have already registered their names with us. After the models are displayed in the city, we expect more than 200 people to buy the car. This car is a status symbol and hence, the demand for the vehicle is higher compared to other cars,” said Mane. Kolhapur district has a number of sugar mills and industrial estates. The estimate is that the city already has a population of over 1o0 Mercedes Benz cars, but their owners have to send the vehicles to Pune to get them vehicles serviced. With the big order, Mercedes Benz has started building its first service station in Kolhapur.
If the wealthy Kolhapur residents reach their target of 200 for the Mercedes Benz mass purchase, that deal will be worth about 870 million rupees and together, the luxury auto-obsessed groups in Aurangabad and Kolhapur will have given the Pune-based dealers of Mercedes Benz and BMW business worth 1,920 million rupees. Who are the people who have made these purchase decisions in the name of collective status? Businessmen, young entrepreneurs, politicians, lawyers, doctors and other professionals, say the news reports. [That there is a powerful ‘status’ logic at work in these two cities has been touched upon in an earlier post on the subject of automobiles in India.]
The car-buying groups are using their business skills to pressure the dealers and banks to giving them concessional terms for their record-breaking purchases. “We are negotiating with the dealers to find out what incentives they can give us,” Kolhapur businessman Yogesh Kulkarni told news media. “An insurance company has promised to insure the car at 50% of the normal rate. Some banks are also ready to give loans at discounted interest rates.”
Mercedes Benz and BMW dealers are being asked for discounts of 10-20%, the groups are negotiating with the State Bank of India (a nationalised scheduled commercial bank) to get a loan for seven years (against the normal five years) at 7% interest (well under the 10-11% effective rural rate of inflation), and an insurance company is said to be offering motor insurance at a 50% discount.
“We want to show the world that Aurangabad is no more backward but ahead of metropolitan cities,” said Pankaj Agrawal, an Aurangabad businessman and one of the mass purchase group. What do Agrawal, Mulay and Mane consider as being “backward”? The news reports don’t tell us. We also don’t know how the expense of 1.9 billion rupees on 450 luxury automobiles is seen as a step out of “backwardness” and a step ahead of the metropolitan cities.
How do these purchases compare with living conditions in Maharashtra? Annual median household income in rural Maharashtra is 24,700 rupees (2005 data from the India Human Development Survey – this will have not in my view changed substantially given the debt shocks, agricultural stagnation and overall conditions of employment and from 2007 onwards) while in urban Maharashtra it is 64,600 rupees. Thus the total amount spent in this period of 2010-11 by the wealthy luxury auto-obsessed groups in Aurangabad and Kolhapur is equivalent to the combined annual incomes of 29,721 households in urban Maharashtra and to the combined annual incomes of 77,732 households in rural Maharashtra.