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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
BMW defies Dhaka's potholes
By Alastair Lawson-Tancred
In Dhaka

BMW showroom
Many have to make do with a BMW key-ring

The sight of luxury BMW cars negotiating their way through the pot-holed and notoriously crowded streets of Bangladesh may seem a little incongruous.

But ever since the German car firm opened its Dhaka showroom last week, interest in the vehicles has soared.

Those peering through the showroom windows aren't just bemused rickshaw pullers marvelling at the wonders of German engineering.

At least 50 vehicles have been sold - from $70,000 to $270,000 apiece - since BMW announced it was planning to move into Bangladesh at the beginning of this year.

"We have been amazed at the level of interest," says sales executive Anis Khan. "And it's not just from inquisitive members of the public.

"We have had enquiries from a wide range of people including businessmen, industrialists and the odd politician."

Driven to destruction

All this seems odd in a country where there are few roads in good enough condition to go faster than 50 miles an hour, and where few cars emerge undented from the notorious traffic jams.

On practically every Bangladeshi road there is a frightening competition for space between rickshaws, cars, buses and lorries.

Dhaka traffic jam
Not exactly ideal driving conditions
There is no highway code as such. The few traffic lights that work are routinely ignored, and everywhere there are the famous potholes - into which, it is rumoured, pedestrians have been known to disappear.

It doesn't exactly seem the dream market for luxury cars, and yet BMW is the latest of a long line of manufacturers to realise that middle class Bangladeshi spending power can no longer be ignored.

It is now possible to buy the latest Mercedes, Volvos and Mitsubishis from dealers whose premises are every bit as upmarket as the BMW showroom.

"We have to remember that the overwhelming majority of people buying these vehicles won't actually drive them," said Mr Khan.

"They will have drivers who are paid to negotiate the horrors of Dhaka's traffic."

Barmy about BMW

One satisfied customer is businessman Henry Choudhury.

"For me these cars are the best. They're smooth running, efficient and have comfortable seats.

"I realise there's a danger they may get scraped and dented but I've told my driver Morshed that he will get a bonus for every month that he can keep it unscathed."

In fact, business for Dhaka's luxury car dealers is so brisk that demand is now starting to out stretch supply. Many are now selling their vehicles to customers through brochures, which can mean a delay of several weeks for the car to be shipped to Bangladesh.

And while some may feel frustrated at not being able to take immediate possession of their vehicle, they can at least take consolation in the wide range of BMW accessories on sale - from T-shirts to mugs, wallets key rings and travel bags.

The biggest seller? A BMW umbrella, regarded by many wealthy Dhakaites as the ultimate monsoon fashion statement.

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