Nepali Times
Cars, cars, and more cars


And this week, an auto fair hits Kathmandu with value for money compacts, luxury sedans, loans, and car accessories.

Stand at any traffic intersection for a few minutes on any working day and you'll see it all-bright red and pearly white, spacious sedan and tiny city cab, wheels, wheels and then some more. You may think you're hallucinating from all the fumes, but you're right: the days of the workhorse Corolla are numbered as new Indian car models dominate the market.
And now there is more coming: Auto Show 2000 at the Bhrikuti Mandap exhibition hall. The show, Nepal's second so far, has over 40 businesses bringing some of the best in the automobile industry. "For anyone with a car in mind, it is the right place to see, compare and make a decision," says Santosh Chhetri, director of Global Exposition and Management Services Pvt Ltd, the organiser of Auto Show 2000. He added that the exhibition is the only real platform that brings together automobile dealers, manufacturers and potential customers.

The exhibition has a fairly mind-boggling range of paraphernalia to choose from: tyres, tubes, paints, lubricants, window shades and vehicle d?cor, not to mention the cars you can actually book at the exhibition itself. If your choice is two-wheelers, there's a wide range to pick from. And close on hand are companies willing to finance your purchases.

"We don't often have such shows in Nepal, so it was a great opportunity for me to see the variety there is to choose from," says a visitor at the show. "They also tell you where and how to obtain spares. The best part for the mischievous mind is that competing companies also tell you about the downsides of their competitors." All is fair in the car business, and it sure is entertaining.

The show does not have all the brands you now see on the city roads but there is a fair choice of cars from the traditional sellers-the assembly lines in India, Korea and Japan-and this year the exhibition is also showcasing models from Thailand and Malaysia. Of course, with so much talk about different vehicles, you may focus less on cars and more on the absurd names automakers bestow on their products. We name no names, but somewhere between the appreciative coos all the information will elicit, we suspect we'll also hear the occasional snort, giggle or chortle.

Some of the mid-priced attractions are the Tata Indica (Rs 763, 000 upwards) sold by Sipradi International Pvt Ltd, and the Alto (Rs 7,86,500 and up) and the Wagon R from the makers of the indomitable Maruti 800. The new Korean models at the show are Kia's Sephia, a luxury sedan costing Rs 1.6 million, and their sports utility, Sportage, that is only marginally more expensive at Rs 2.4 million. The sellers of Cuore, Golcha Organisation, are introducing Extol, a new car from the Daihatsu stable.

Toyota is showcasing Echo, a compact, Rav4, an upmarket sporty model, and a large off-roader produced for the Indian market, Qualis. Toyota will also present two Thai-made cars: Saluna and Tiger Pick Up. If the Corolla puts you off Toyotas in general, you can choose from Tata's Safari, Maruti's Baleno, Daewoo's Matiz, Daihatsu's Terios and Cuore, Hyundai's Santro and Accent, and the Malaysian Perdua Kancil. Whew.

Two-wheelers at the show include Hero Honda's CBZ, Street and Splendor, Kawasaki Bajaj's Upgrade Calibre, Eliminator, M-80 and Saffire scooter, and the more fancy Harley wannabes-Jialing and Daelim.

The organisers have also made space for shops that sell little accessories for your car. Our only fear is that driving in Kathmandu will become even more witless under the influence of bad car fragrances, or some tchotchke that is inexplicably a hit, like that small demented, head-bobbing dog cabbies love to perch on their dashboards.

It is always difficult for a prospective buyer to choose a car, and it only gets worse when you're confronted with such an array of options and distractions. To get good value for your money, first focus on knowing exactly what you need. If you're looking for a car to commute to work, a small city model-Zen, Cuore, Perdua or even Old Faithful (Maruti 800)-may be what you are looking for. The car to take you on the occasional long drive to Nepalgunj or Biratnagar would be a four-wheel drive or even a luxury sedan.

Other factors that influence choice are comfort, mileage per litre of petrol or diesel, availability of spares, maintenance facilities, and after sales follow-up. But most important for most of us is the price tag. Cost does make a difference, and it's obvious when you see proof on the streets-Indian-made compacts such as Maruti 800, Zen, Matiz and Santro are the highest selling cars here. They cost anywhere from Rs 650,000 to Rs 1 million.

However, Jai Singh Kothari, General Secretary of Nepal Automobile Dealers' Association believes that cost alone is not the reason why Indian cars are ruling the market. "Indian cars have also become more reliable and improved in quality after foreign collaboration," he says. "Spares are easily available and these cars have lower maintenance costs compared to other imported cars." Doesn't matter if some of us don't like Them, Their cars are pretty good, seems the general attitude.

Another reason for increasing car sales in Kathmandu is the availability of consumer financing. Earlier only finance companies funded vehicle purchase, but now even banks have got into the act. Each financier offers a different package, whether or not you have collateral to offer, and people invariably find "the deal" after they've already signed up for another loan. The catchword thus is shop around until you are sick of the financiers. By then you'll certainly know enough and can figure out the best deal. The best deal is often just getting vaguely affordable finance just when you need it. Afterwards, do not, I repeat, do not compare rates.

Car retailers say that commercial banks have better financing offers than finance companies-banks usually calculate what you pay back on the declining balance while many finance companies supposedly insist on all payments being calculated based on your original loan amount. Check this out for yourself at Auto Show 2000 where Nepal Grindlays Bank and a finance company, Union Finance, have both set up stalls offering to pay for your wheels.

This may say something about the quality of Kathmandu's cultural life, but you should go even if you aren't in the market for a new vehicle. The exhibition is a place where you can walk around, check out some of the vehicles on display, grab a bite at one of the eateries (shopping for cars is hard work), incite stall-owners against each other, and watch people fight over the last hideous furry mirror ornament. For those who can't catch all the live excitement at the exhibition, Auto Show 2000 has a website with shopping information. Organisers say the website www.itnti.comautoshow2000 is updated regularly and will have links to sites maintained by the major automobile makers and dealers worldwide.

There's also the flip side to all this. Kathmandu's streets are getting crowded every day and traffic jams are increasingly common. This is a major problem today but a solution lies in better vehicles and better traffic manage-ment. Phasing out old gas-guzzlers and creaky vehicles could be reason even for policy makers to step into the exhibition grounds-it could be an ideal place to see what type of cars Kathmandu needs.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)