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In top gear, in Aurangabad

In top gear, in Aurangabad

It isn’t and has never been difficult to find rich, even very rich, people in India’s small towns. Even in the 1980s, Indian news magazines were devoting colour spreads (usually accompanied by some breathless prose) to the rich in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, and, down south, in Coimbatore and Vijayawada.

Those interested in understanding the impact of the bulk purchase of Mercedes cars in Aurangabad would do well to remember that. This purchase of 150 cars wasn’t just about men seeking wheels; it was, as the realtor who came up with the idea told reporters—both domestic and foreign, who descended on the city—about men seeking to make a noise, about themselves largely, but also about Aurangabad.

Measured against the second goal, the bulk purchase will end up being as quixotic as hoping that the sheer presence of so many luxury cars in the small town will encourage the local administration to build better roads, or that the sprawling multi-storey residence Mukesh Ambani has built for himself will encourage cement makers to make a beeline for Mumbai’s Altamont Road. It is unlikely to encourage car makers or, indeed the makers of other products, to set up factories in the town.

Such decisions aren’t usually driven by the existence of an immediate local market, but by other factors such as availability of material, labour and power. And the bulk purchase isn’t really large enough to change that. In this case, for instance, the car deal is worth $15 million. It costs around 20 times that to set up a basic car plant. One required to produce a hi-tech luxury car like the Mercedes could end up costing much more. Nor is the deal likely to gain Aurangabad any lasting fame. It will be covered a bit by media and then be forgotten, just another curious and strange event in a small city.

At best, it could encourage retailers of high-end offerings to open shop in the city—if they aren’t already there; many cities of Aurangabad’s size boast stores selling everything from high-end audio equipment to premium clothing labels, and German modular kitchens to Italian furniture. At worst, it will do nothing apart from introducing Aurangabad to foreign journalists discovering India and Indian ones discovering Bharat.

Aurangabad and cars: is there more to the story? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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