Vietnam’s nouveau riche are driving the luxury boom
Vietnam is emerging as a promising market for luxury cars. And what has changed is that premium auto sales are now being made by authorized, rather than unofficial, importers: BMW appointed Euro Auto, Porsche entered the country with Prestige Sports Car, and Mercedes-Benz began imports. When the USD97,000 Audi Q5 was first introduced, orders came in so quickly that customers, most of them younger than 36, had to wait at least three months to get one. In 2009 Maybach-Motorenbau, a German maker of ultra-luxury autos, manufactured just four limited-edition Maybach 62S cars priced as high as USD500,000, and two of them were sold in Vietnam. The USD600,000 Ferrari 458 Italia has been sold in Vietnam. In 2014, four new brands appeared in Vietnam: Bentley, Jaguar, Infiniti and Mini.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that life in the fast lane has never come cheap, but what you get in return is a lifestyle and a statement. Van Trung Dao, the Sales & Marketing Director at Auto Modena, the official Maserati dealer in Vietnam, says customers in this segment buy “exclusivity, personalization and performance.”
Opened in January of this year, Maserati is new to the Vietnam market and is hoping to upgrade Vietnamese buyers into the supercar category from the popular Lexus, Audis and Mercedes they’ve become used to. “For Vietnamese drivers, Maserati is very new to them. They know about Ferrari and they know about Lamborghini, but not Maserati. So for Vietnamese buyers, this will not be their first [luxury] car in this segment,” says Van. The Italian brand has set a very high bar of their own in terms of design, performance and street appeal, delivering the Ferrari feel and sound without the Ferrari price tag, according to Van. Sitting in both the new Levante, Maserati’s answer to local demand for high-end SUVs, and the Quattroporte GTS, which it calls a “triumph of elegance, technology and power”. I did feel richer, but not USD350,000 richer, which is about the starting figure for negotiations.
As we talk, potential customers roll up to the showroom driving the competition. Audis, BMWs and a Lexus are all there at different times during our visit, even a Bentley owner turns up to browse, or perhaps it’s just his driver. Van tells me you never know with these types of customers, sometimes you don’t meet them until it comes time to sign a contract. “They send their driver, they send their son, they send their family,” he says. “Some of the profiles of these people are incredible.”
Call the Doctor
Joe Creazzo, or Dr. Joe, from Adelaide, Australia is a professional car tuner here for the last 15 years, and is well-known in the luxury car industry. He attributes the recent growth in the luxury market to new money in Vietnam; successful business owners are happy to reward themselves with the status symbol of a high-performance car.
“The Vietnamese still have this attitude where they want to stand out,” says Joe. “They want status and they want to be unique. It’s all about that. There’s no doubt that over the years, we’ve done the most top level tuning in this country, everything from Rolls Royce and Ferrari to Maserati, Porsche and Mercedes.” With a PhD in aeronautical engineering, his business started through word-of- mouth, and has grown from there. He remembers a time driving around Saigon and barely seeing two or three cars on the road—those times have changed. Joe says the culture around these types of cars is also getting better though, despite a lack of infrastructure to actually drive them properly. “Where before you’d have people not knowing how to drive or how to look after these cars, the level of knowledge has improved. I get fewer phone calls now from people at two o’clock in the morning who can’t get out of neutral.”
In this way, Dr. Joe has become a luxury brand himself. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but it’s an important part of his business when they spend the type of money they do. “I’m the guy they ring,” he says, “when they’ve got a bit of money to spend, they want the job done correctly, they can trust what’s being done and they don’t have to worry about it.”
The fully imported luxury car market in Vietnam is still growing, despite heavy taxes being levied to encourage the purchase of locally-built cars. As a whole, it remains niche, but established suppliers like Mercedes, Porsche and BMW, regularly report double-digit growth. In the future, with free trade agreements with Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be ratified, it would appear only logical that the likes of Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini will report the same.
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN