Why garish cars attract Delhi natives

As the website CarWale.com suggests, luxury cars attract Delhi more than the rest of India


Most of the high-end cars listed on CarWale are from Delhi. Photo: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg
Most of the high-end cars listed on CarWale are from Delhi. Photo: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

The natives of Delhi are, for many of the rest of us Indians, entitled, boorish, loud, crass.

“Nice city, shame about the people” is an opinion so commonly held as to be a cliché. One negative aspect of our Capital’s identity, and this comes up far too often for it to be dismissed as merely anecdotal, is how its men treat women. I am open-minded about such things, but I must say that a second negative, for the tax-paying visitor, is how much the city sucks out of the rest of us.

Gujarat has four million taxpayers, around 11% of India’s total, though it has only 5% of India’s population. And yet a visitor from Surat cannot but notice how he does not even have a properly functioning airport, while Delhi has two plus a world-class Metro.

It has better roads than any city in India, in my opinion, and that is because others pay for them.

Maharashtra pays 40% of India’s income-tax while Delhi pays 13%. Of course, it is true that one reason Maharashtra, meaning mostly Mumbai, pays more tax is because it has many more properly rich people than Delhi. All the data, all the history, everything tells us that wealthy Indians, particularly the biggest industrialists and those with old money (or what passes for old money in India) are to be found in Mumbai rather than in Delhi. Of India’s 68 billionaires, for example, 30 were living in Mumbai till 2015.

And yet we are confronted by an odd phenomenon.

The website CarWale.com used to be owned by Germany’s media conglomerate Axel Springer and was sold to CarTrade (for around Rs.600 crore, a number that to me makes no sense for what is really an online listings directory). It is an excellent resource for buying and selling used cars. On 7 June, the site hosted 37,035 listings, of which 6,720 were from Delhi, 5,893 from Mumbai, 3,538 from Bengaluru, and so on.

What we are looking at specifically are the luxury car listings. I don’t mean BMWs and Mercedes-Benz type executive cars, I mean proper luxury automobiles.

Of the 22 used Bentleys listed for sale on the site, 16 were in Delhi. The price of a south Delhi registered Bentley Continental Flying Spur was Rs.3.6 crore.

All the five used Ferraris available for sale (Rs.4.63 crore, on-road price, for a 458 Speciale) were from Delhi. One of the five, a Ferrari F430 coupe listed for Rs.1.6 crore, referred to the car as being in Mumbai. I was intrigued and telephoned the listed number, only to find out that this car too was registered in Delhi.

All eight of the eight used Lamborghinis were from Delhi (the price was Rs.3.4 crore for Huracan, though most of the ones on sale were Gallardos, which retailed at about the same price).

Similarly, all 10 of the used Porsche 911s (including a 911 Turbo listed for Rs.2.25 crore, a few lakhs under the new car price) were in Delhi.

The one Aston Martin V8 Vantage (Rs.2.12 crore) listed was from Delhi. There was another Aston Martin listed but it seemed like a fake listing, showing the car as having done 430,000km.

Six of the nine Audi R8 sports cars (Rs.2.3 crore for the V8 version) were from Delhi. Four of the five used Maseratis (Rs.2 crore for the GranTurismo) were in Delhi.

Three of the five Rolls-Royces were from Delhi. The other two were from Mumbai, of which one was from 1976 (old money, no doubt). The Delhi Rolls-Royces included the Rs.9.2 crore Phantom Coupe and the Rs.5.6 crore Ghost.

I said I was only looking at proper luxury cars. When we look at automobiles that are not garish, not flashy and are not inexpensive but represent a certain quality, the picture changes.

The Mini Cooper is a stylish car costing Rs.33 lakh. It is a hatchback, and therefore practical, but with a cool image. On the site, 37 were listed for sale, of which only 11 were from Delhi. Bengaluru, a much smaller city, had 10. This is to be expected. Bengaluru’s wealthy are not flashy, they are thoughtful and understated for the most part. Think of the last names Premji, Nilekani, Murthy, etc.

The equally little and equally stylish Volkswagen Beetle costs Rs.34 lakh. Delhi had one listed for sale, and Bengaluru, three.

To close the argument, let’s have a look at the entry-level German sedans, which is what white-collar executives (the sort who have cards reading VP, marketing, etc.) most likely drive.

Of the 223 Audi A4s listed for sale (price Rs.36 lakh), only 57 were from Delhi. Of the 237 BMW 3 Series (Rs.43 lakh), only 45 were from Delhi. Of the 327 Mercedes-Benz C-Class (price Rs.45 lakh), only 79 were from Delhi.

Clearly, there is something about ultra-expensive, very loud, impractical, garish cars that seems to attract Delhi natives more, much, much more than the rest of us. And it is off-putting because the immediate suspicion is that much of this glitter is from income that is not conventional.

As I said, I am open-minded and will accept evidence that disproves the cliché of the Delhiwallah as being crude, boorish and entitled. As of now, however, I’m still looking.

Aakar Patel is the executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at aakar_amnesty.

READ MORE