Wheels of fortune

Written by Dilip Bobb | Updated: Dec 9 2012, 06:03am hrs
You are what you drive. The larger mass of car buyers in India look at value for money but theres no limit for those who can afford to buy the best, or the most expensive, set of wheels. That is why they make supercars, so the super rich can feel superior to the rich.

Its the reason Volkswagen brought the Bugatti Veyron to India this year. It costs R16 crore, give or take a few lakhs, the most expensive vehicle in India. It is one of the fastest road cars in the world0-100 kmph in just over two seconds, but not many Indian billionaires want to swap stomach-churning speed for comfort, luxury and a badge that spells class.

Some do, though. Ratan Tata, Indias most respected businessman who generally errs on the side of caution in his personal style, owns a bright red Ferrari! Its a car he drives on holidays for the kick he literally gets from the 4.3-litre V8 engine. Who could imagine Ratan Tata behind the wheel of a two-door convertible supercar with a top speed of 310 km But this is his personal passion, like his love for flying airplanes. You will never see him drive the car to Bombay House, the company headquarter; its strictly for private joyrides and clearly worth the R2. 25 crore price tag.

Ferraris latest model, the F 12, will be headed to a showroom near you in 2013 with an estimated price tag of R4.5 crore. One potential buyer will be Gautam Singhania. He is a sports car nut and could be looking to replace his two-year-old Ferrari 458 Italia, one of the most gorgeous supercars built.

Mallya is the undisputed car king of India, with his garage boasting every ultra-luxury brand, but the most expensive in his contemporary collection is the Maybach 62, billed as the most luxurious car in the world, and made by Daimler. It costs R5 crore-plus and has everything a corporate czar could want, which is why Indias richest man, Mukesh Ambani, owns one as well. He also owns a top of the line Mercedes S Class and the sportier limited edition Mercedes SL500, among other luxury automobiles that take up an entire floor at Antilla. Younger brother Anil is more adventurous. His favourite is a Lamborghini Gallardo (R2.25 crore), another envy-inducing super car. He also owns a Mercedes S class, a Maybach (naturally), a BMW 7 series, a Rolls-Royce, a Porsche, an Audi Q7 and a Lexus.

Its not just the billionaire club that likes to be driven around in style and costly comfort. We Indians need no excuse to indulge, especially when it comes to expensive wheels. Indians bought an estimated 170 super-luxury cars in 2011-12.

The super-luxury tag applies to cars from R80 lakh upwards, headed by Rolls-Royce. Bentley, Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 series, Audi A-8, the Porsche Panamera and Jaguar XJ, to name the best known. Actor Sridevi just bought her husband a Porsche Cayenne SUV just to celebrate her cinematic comeback. The top of the line model, with all the bells and whistles, costs close to R1 crore and it was the 100th Porsche the company has sold in India.

The Mumbai-based Shreyans Group imports Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche in India. In 2011-12, they sold 150 supercars. The iconic British brand Aston Martin sold 40 cars in an 18-month period, including the Vanquish made famous by James Bond. Lamborghini, which retails the Avantador (R4.2 crore) and the Gallardo (R2.5 crore) in India, has taken orders for 20 Avantadors which, like the Bugatti, has a waiting period of 18 months.

Indeed, expensive supercars have become the ultimate wedding gift among the ultra rich. Rolls-Royce, the epitome of luxury, is introducing a special wedding edition of the two saloons it sells in Indiathe Ghost (R2.5 crore) and the Phantom (R4.5 crore), with specially hand-crafted interiors, including the names of the newlyweds embossed on special panels (what happens if theres a quick divorce is unclear). Since 2005, when Rolls Royce debuted in India, it has sold over 200 cars. Amitabh Bachchan has just swapped his Bentley Arnage for a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

The biggest Rolls- Royce fan in India seems to be Captain Krishnan Nair, founder of the Leela Palace hotel group. He owns no less than three of them, a vintage Silver Shadow apart from the Phantom and the Ghost.

Ultra-luxury cars are popular in India because the richie rich club needs something that allows them to stand out from the Armani-clad herd. Only a limited number will get invited to your mansion or accompany you on your yacht or fly in your private jet.

The maximum public exposure is really when being chauffeured around in your wheels of fortune, seated on hand-stitched leather and reading The Wall Street Journal. With the Maybach, you get champagne glasses as well.

The writer is Group Editor, Special Projects & Features,

The Indian Express