A note from the translator: I’m not the sort to deny myself or feel guilty about Schadenfreude, particularly when it comes to Russia and the Russian “élite” (whom I wouldn’t let come nearer me or mine than a – preferably spiked – barge pole would permit). So I couldn’t resist translating this for LR readers. (It was either this or more on the freon submarine).
That however, would have been more of the same – underfunded shipyard, loss of specialists, unpaid subcontractors, what one can expect for mothballing a complex piece of engineering for 22 years, poor planning of systems upgrades, and so on and so forth. The usual for Russia.
This, therefore, was the better laugh. Not feeling easy in a Bentley . . . The Rich are Selling Their Premium Class Vehicles; Working Folk are Buying Them.
Pavel Kalygin, “Our anti-crisis correspondent”
15 November 2008
Translated by Dave Essel
The world crisis is steadily worming its way into stranger and stranger places, confounding our dreams of stability and undermining our way of life and habits. The middle class is already profoundly affected and has lost everything: creditworthiness, quarterly bonuses, free lunches… But the premium class is striving to stand firm against the crisis. It is not proving easy for them as I discovered when I took a trip to the Rublevka and saw the scale of the damage, the actual costs of their battle. I was shaken: a Porsche Cayenne S, fresh from the factory in March this year, going for a mere 1,5 million roubles (~$55K)…
“That’s mind-boggling!” I said to Maxim Denisov, the manager of this second-hand car dealership on the Rublevka. “It’s worth twice that.”
Maxim, a solidly-built man of about 35, with square-rimmed spectacles, sighed tiredly and replied:
“Mind-boggling for some… For the previous owner, though, it’s more a complete ****-up…”
Yes, the denizens of the Rublevka expensive housing estates are getting shot of their luxury goods. In October alone, Denisov has recorded a 30% rise in the number of people wishing to sell their cars. Demand, however, has remained at an unchanged level. In order not to become yet another victim of the crisis, Denisov has had to lower prices. The cars’ owners screamed and shouted, refused to deal, but then came back to leave their cars anyway.
“It’s no fun disappointing our vendors, particularly since many of them are regulars,” Denisov said to me. “But the car market has changed dramatically. Today’s prices mean that we can’t just look to the Rublevka middle market, selling them the former cars of their richer neighbours. It’s a different ball game now and and others are starting to look to what used to be a Rublevka status symbol. We’re here to make that possible! Someone who only yesterday reckoned he just had enough to buy a Toyota Camry can now afford a second-hand BMW in excellent condition!”
“Is there still demand?”
“Yes, but the customers have changed. In a flash, the typical customer is now a quite different person. This customer looks more modest, but he has ready cash.”
Denisov is saying that his customers are no longer the same people. Now, they’re from the group that lived on their salaries and did not borrow. Upper working class, small businessmen with savings. Those who did not like to borrow or could not get access to the credit pie in the past.
There are about 200 cars in this showroom designed for 150. The cars are packed tight; stolid Denisov has trouble squeezing between them. We stop by a yellow Chrysler Prowler.
“My favourite,” lusts Denisov. “And practically a collector’s item. They stopped making them in 2001 and until today, they changed hands in oligarch circles only. And now this one has beautifying the showroom for a week already…”
Denisov made as if to sit in the car, then didn’t. “Would you like it?” He suddenly asks me, in all seriousness. “Only one point six meg (~$58K).” I turn this over in my mind but Denisov continues:
“You’re too late in any case. A man came by yesterday morning. Dressed in workingman’s clothes – sweater and jeans – and crawled all over the car, checking every nut and bolt. Then he disappeared. Happens sometimes: the wrong kind of person comes in to gawp. But this guy came back today, planted down a pile of cash and asked if we could do the paperwork as fast as possible because he didn’t want to be late for work. Would you believe it?! Our best customers these last few weeks have been the proles!”
Denisov looks me up and down. “So I’m thinking, okay, you’re clearly not an oligarch, but may you want…”
I can’t work out if he’s trying to put me down or not.
“I’ve only got cash. No debt and no credit,” I say.
“I know the situation!,” exclaims the manager.”I’d have bought it myself but I can’t really afford it.”
Having each exchanged these pleasantries of sorts, we stood and looked at the roadster some more, Denisov piningly. I looked at the dimensions of his body. Perhaps we ought to do a temporary swap…
As we were going back to his office, a man of about 40, wearing an overcoat, stopped him. “Are you the top man here? I need to talk with you.” He spoke nervously and led Denisov aside. Denisov spoke too quietly, but I could hear the man’s voice: “A grand… Okay, two… Two grand per cellphone number!… What do you mean, there isn’t any demand?!” After a few minutes, he left.
“A small-time speculator,” Denisov explains to me. “He queued for 6 months for a Land Cruiser 200 and now he wants to sell it a premium to someone further back in the line. His car’s arrived but there isn’t a queue any more. So now he’s worried.”
“But why did he want to speak with you?”
“He thought maybe one of my customers would want to buy it. Asked me to sell him their cellphone numbers. But look,” Denisov waves towards the far end of the showroom, where the 4WDs are parked. “I’ve got three there already and no buyers. One’s got just 46km on the clock. We took it off our customer for just 100K. He paid 150K for it. Or take last year’s models there. They’ve got 10-25,000 kms on the clock. That Volvo S60 was going for 900 thousand roubles this summer, now it’s priced at 700. The Audi Q7 was 2.9 million, now it 2.1. And I’m offering the Lexus GS300 at 1.3 million, down from 1.8.
“Why so cheap?” I ask.
Denisov’s voice drops a tone and he says:
“What do you think? Think they don’t need cash? People like that have 10 cars in the garage and debt in 7 figures. The need to realise some assets.”
“Then what will they drive?”
“Well, no one’s come in flogging their Bentleys or Maybach’s yet. Just because there’s a crisis doesn’t mean they’re trading down to a Lada, eating cheap food, sleeping with low-class whores, and so on, but you get the drift.”
Denisov laughs long and loud and pushes his glasses up onto his forehead. He didn’t know how wrong he was. Neither did I, come to that.
Not half an hour had passed when a middle-aged man walked into the showroom. He looked around a little timidly. Denisov walked up to him with a welcoming smile.
“I’ve got a car I want to sell,” says the man.
“Turned out to be not quite what you wanted?” asks Denisov.
The customer turns aside and shuffles awkwardly.
“Well,” he begins hesitantly. “I don’t feel quite right in it.”
I see Denisov’s eyes bugging. His glasses drop back down on his nose.
“You mean… in the Bentley?”
“It’s not really cosy,” the client rushes out the words and shuffles even more awkwardly. “It’s all sorts of things. Everything’s uncertain, business isn’t stable. So, that when… Well, I thought something more modest… I don’t know: a Lexus or something like that…”
Denisov’s spectacles fall onto his desk.