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For the rich, luxury cars are big boys' toys
Latest Updated by 2006-06-02 10:58:20

It costs 3.5 million yuan (US$437,000), goes from nought to 100 kilometres-an-hour in less than five seconds and is one of the most desirable cars on the planet.

But in a city infamous for its gridlocked streets, just what is the point of having a Lamborghini?

In the Chinese mainland's richest and arguably most fashion-conscious city, the appetite for supercars is growing. The problem is, with a downtown street layout approaching its 100th birthday, Shanghai grants owners little opportunity to put such vehicles through their paces.

"I mostly just use it to cruise around at the weekend or at night when the roads are a bit more empty," said Fang, talking about his two-month-old Lamborghini Gallardo. "If I take it out, I generally take it straight back home because I don't want to leave it anywhere if I do, when I come back it's always surrounded by people and has finger marks all over the windows."

A high flyer in Shanghai's real-estate market, Fang who doesn't want to disclose his first name owns another six cars including a convertible Porsche and a Mercedes SL.

"I used to have a Ferrari, too, but someone crashed into me at traffic lights and after that I sold it," he added.

Despite its sporting pedigree, Fang admitted his Italian supercar, which, fortunately for him, has adjustable suspension so he can get it into his garage without scraping the nose, has seen little high-speed action.

"The only place you can drive it quickly is to the airport at night when it's not too busy," he said, referring to the Pudong expressway which has a speed limit of 100 kmh.

In town, the limit is 60 kmh but traffic rarely moves that fast; even on the country's fastest roads the limit of 120 kmh is only a little over a third of the car's true capability.

Shanghai's F1 track could offer a high speed oasis, were Fang looking for somewhere to give his accelerator pedal free reign, but he concedes the car's performance was not really what he bought it for.

"I've never taken it to the track," he explained. "The most important thing is that it's a good-looking car. I keep it in my garage at home, I wash it myself and it's a big boy's toy I like it and I can afford it, so I bought it. There's no point making money if you can't enjoy it."

It is a mantra Shanghai's wealthy are increasingly keen to follow, and one car manufacturers are more than happy to indulge.

Last year Ferrari delivered 82 cars to customers on the mainland, almost double the 42 it imported between 1993 and 2004.

By March this year, the company reported it already had a 50-name waiting list for deliveries on the mainland.

Sister company Maserati is experiencing similarly impressive growth, expecting to double sales from 70 in 2005 to 140 this year.

The pair now have a network of 11 dealers in China, covering not only Shanghai and Beijing but also cities such as Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing and Xiamen.

According to Virginia Killory, Ferrari's communications manager in Shanghai, customers are offered a "Corso Pilota" race-track driving course, a chance to vent the frustrations that arise when your six-speed, 700 horse-power car rarely gets out of third gear.

"We run courses to teach customers how to drive their cars safely and also to give them the opportunity to indulge in the kind of driving experience they cannot have on the public roads," she said.

German company Porsche, whose latest Carrera GT retails at an eye-watering 6.8 million yuan (US$850,000), also sees the Chinese market as one ripe for exploitation.

Shifting just 390 cars on the mainland in 2004, sales last year took off, more than doubling to 857. By the end of this year, Porsche plans to have 20 dealerships across the country.

But, as some have painfully discovered, the reality of owning a marquee brand does not always live up to the fantasy.

Shanghai restaurateur Dong Rongting ordered his 3 million yuan (US$370,000) Ferrari more than three years ago and has been embroiled in legal action almost ever since.

After successfully suing the dealership for its delayed delivery of the car, which arrived a full year later than promised, and receiving 1.7 million yuan (US$212,000) compensation, Dong has since taken the dealer to court a second time claiming the car does not run properly.

Declining to talk to China Daily yesterday for "legal reasons," one thing is clear: Dong's high-octane dream has been a big disappointment.

Editor: Wing

By:Mark South Source:China Daily Website
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