Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Imported From Detroit

Born in Flint, Michigan (like General Motors) and growing up in the Flint area about 60 miles north of Detroit, I consider the domestic auto industry part of my heritage. It is, in fact, auto jobs that drew my grandparents to Michigan as immigrants newly arrived from Europe in the wake of World War II. Good, bad, and ugly, the auto industry has shaped my hometown and the lives and livelihoods of many of the people there. It has in its own way shaped a part of my history as well. So it may seem odd to some, but I pay keen attention to the cars on the road just about everywhere I go. I'm not even a serious "car guy" noting horsepower or rare makes and models; I'm just curious about what major company brands people are driving and why. They appear to be big on Beamers in San Francisco. Other than government vehicles, Washington, DC doesn't seem to love the Big Three. I once crossed the border into Michigan and drove for over an hour on the highway before seeing anything non-domestic. Ford trucks are ubiquitous in Iowa.

So what are they driving in Kathmandu? In a word: motorcycles. When it comes to cars, though, I see mostly Asian names, Tata and Suzuki being most common. Given the average income of Nepal's citizens, cars seem impossibly expensive, especially ones imported from the United States. Imagine my surprise, then, coming across this Ford dealership along one of Kathmandu's main drags.

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I couldn't resist stopping in to check out the merchandise. I have seen a decent handful of GM's Chevrolets on the roads, but literally no Fords. I got to see them close up in the immaculate, bright, Western-seeming showroom here (but didn't feel comfortable snapping pictures, especially since I posed as a hotshot potential buyer). The tour wasn't lengthy since there were only three models for sale. Here is a shot I ripped from the internet of the Ford Fiesta for sale in "Paprika Red":

For 2.65 million Nepali rupees (about $37,000 US), she can be all yours. That price, of course, is for foreign nationals who must pay a tax somewhere in excess of 100% of the base price for cars in Nepal [actually, it's 240%--thanks, Kim]. With sticker shock like that, I won't be purchasing this Fiesta or any car in Nepal any time soon. The saleswoman didn't know this fact and offered me the keys for a test drive. I literally laughed out loud at the suggestion. First of all, I have never driven a stick shift (and all cars here are stick). Second, this is the view of traffic outside the showroom's windows:

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I passed on the test drive. Given that I see so few Fords on the roads here and so few brand new cars in general, I was surprised to hear that this Ford dealership (the only one in Kathmandu and I believe the country) sells 40 to 50 vehicles per month. With sales like these, however, I don't think Nepal will be the emerging market that reshapes the auto industry's bottom line. Still, it's interesting to see that even here in the Himalayas you can purchase and drive a slice of America, imported from Detroit.

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