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Punjab di special gaddi
SUVs are the vehicle of choice for the rich in Punjab. And how can the price tag really matter when it's a question of 'shaan'?
A few months ago, the Punjab government, facing a severe cash crunch, cut down on all inessential expenditures and announced a series of austerity measures. But there was one category which the government couldn't touch. In fact, it had to reluctantly give in to the pressure to upgrade the Toyota Camry of cabinet ministers' to Toyota Fortuner. The SUV, the ministers argued, was stable, better suited to travelling on village roads and most importantly, comfortable during the long hours of campaigning.
The SUV craze, which has Punjab firmly in its grip, had just received an official stamp.
Sport Utility Vehicles by virtue of their large cabins, higher ride height and perceived safety have become the favourite option for moneyed Punjabi men. Whether its Chandigarh or Ludhiana, businessmen are opting for high-end SUVs over high-end luxury sedans. For many it's a question of size and show - big cars are difficult to ignore - while for some it's the bump-free ride they offer. For those with a penchant for speed thrills, SUVs are the perfect cars to splurge on. But the selling point for most Punjabis is the high ground clearance and extra head room. They all want a car they can climb into rather than sink into.
The SUV market in North India grew by 60 per cent compared with the 30 per cent in the rest of the country. Sales of SUVs in Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh grew by 58 per cent in the last six months, almost double the sales growth nationwide during the same period.
Aman Matharu has spent a large part of his 13 years in the automotive industry selling cars to farmers and businessmen in Punjab. He understands the psyche of the Punjabi buyer better than most people.
"His mentality favours bigger vehicles, " says the softspoken Matharu, part of BMW's sales team. "And money is never an issue. Often they want to 'load' the car with more. They want bigger sized alloys on the wheels and spending Rs 5-6 lakh more on a car is hardly a deterrent. " The per capita income in Punjab is Rs 74, 606 and Chandigarh (as a Union territory), Rs 1, 40, 073. Compare this to Tamil Nadu's Rs 84, 496 and Gujarat's Rs 75, 115 and you can see why SUVs are a must among affluent Punjabis.
"A lot of farmers who have sold off their land have the money. People are looking for a vehicle that can handle any kind of terrain whether it's a highway or a kuccha road. Plus there are hill stations close to Punjab and weekend driving trips to Shimla, Kasauli and McLeodganj are routine, " Matharu explains.
Auto companies now launch cars here first and then move into the rest of the country. Tata Motors, for instance, launched its Safari Storme in Punjab before the nationwide launch.
Manav Singh owns four SUVs. Four Toyota Land Cruisers in fact. The 4. 4-litre V8 is a tremendous engine and the cabin luxurious enough if you can afford it - the top-end model can cross the Rs 1 crore mark. "It's a macho car isn't it?" he asks. "A lot of my friends in Delhi have the BMW X6 or the Mercedes SUVs and I don't consider them sports utility vehicles, they are soft utility vehicles. You can't treat them rough, " he jokes.
Singh's decision to pack his garage with SUVs was made years ago when a friend of his, driving a Land Cruiser at the speed of 120 kmph, rammed into a stationery truck on a highway. The truck was thrown a few feet in the air but the driver escaped unhurt, with a few minor injuries. "My dad went and bought a Land Cruiser the very next day, " says Singh, who regularly shuttles between Delhi, Dehradun and Punjab.
Manreet Libra has a more academic explanation for why SUVs rule the roads in Punjab. Traditionally, families never look for a local match for their children. This meant that most families have relatives scattered across the state - in-laws in Ludhiana, cousins in Jalandhar, bua in Bhatinda and chacha in Amritsar.
"All our relatives live 150 km or beyond. We spend a lot of time driving on the highways and there's nothing better than an SUV to give you that sense of safety. Uncchi gaddi hai, solid cheez hai (a tall car is more safe), " says the scion of the Libra Group that runs one of the largest private bus fleets in Punjab. Libra has seven cars - three Range Rover Evoques, one Range Rover Discovery, one Land Cruiser, one Porsche Carerra and one BMW 7 series. "Plus, the cars have big boot space and I have two small kids so I can just carry their whole room with me if I want, " he adds.
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