Just about two years ago I engaged in that guilty pleasure of car buying. While there is absolutely nothing amiss with my current vehicle – in fact it has been the most reliable car I have ever owned – with my Father in town it was time to become a two car family.
Car buying in Dubai is not at all like the UK. Back home the brand dealers hound you. Here they are merely there to give the price and availability – kind of like selecting shoes. Let me give you an example:
My dream car when I was a lad was a BMW M3 – that motorsport badge giving the promise of performance and some unattainable cachet from driving “the best in its class” car. When I was in the position to buy one I went to local dealer to see what he had in the nearly new category. They had a “poverty spec” M3 which I was not keen on and I told him without x,y and z widgets I would not be buying. A few days later the dealer called saying he had the car with the right spec on and it was being prepped at the moment and was in the workshop and would I like to see it. Of course I went down and when I walked through the door the dealer had all ready put the personal number plate I had on my current car on the shiny blue M3. A brilliant close – even I will admit that and I was driving that car away later that week.
Here in Dubai it is very different. The conversation goes something like this:
Me: “How much is this model?”
Dealer: “it is x dirham sir”
Me: “Does it have x,y and z widget?”
Dealer: “It is full option sir”
Me: “Do you have it in stock in color y with interior z?”
Dealer: “Yes” or “Yes, in four months time”
And that is pretty much it. There is no haggling on the price, no speccing the car to the nth degree unless you want to wait upwards of a year. They either have it or not. You pay the price or you don’t. This makes buying new cars straightforward and low pressure. I somehow felt it was an empty experience. I wanted car buying to be a dance of tactical negotiation, between myself and a sharply dressed car salesman who is wearing even more hair product than myself.
I knew I needed something more. So with my Autotrader in hand I headed for the spiritual home of Arthur Daley in Dubai. The Al Aweer used car complex.
Again – trawling around second car lots is also a ritual of buying a car for me. I think well if I can afford the “special edition” surely I can get the “turbo nutter special edition” for the same money second hand?. Everyone always wants a deal.
The Al Aweer car complex sits out on the Emirates road discretely labelled “Used Car Complex” – it is an understatement. I have spent numerous Saturday afternoons in the UK mooching around Trade Sales in the UK described as Europes largest second had car store. It has got nothing on Al Aweer. Once you get there you realise that every possible square inch has some vehicle jammed into that space and that being able to park your current car to go and look at other cars is a challenge in itself.
I was bewildered. Everywhere I looked there were objects of desire. All of Dubai’s favourites were in abundance – Porsche Cayennes, Range Rover Sports, Toyota Land Cruisers, Audi Q7s, Hummer H2s and the Escalades. Then there were the exotica. I had never seen so many Lamborghinis in one place and in so many colours, grey, red, green and even orange. Aside from the luxury cars there was plenty for people with more practical needs but you needed to look hard for them in amongst the many traders specialising in higher end models.
I could have spent hours browsing, it was fascinating. But 45c weather and 80% humidity is enough to put the dampers on even the most fervent car bargain hunter. Still I gave it a good three hours and somehow the heat spurred me on to engage in conversation with the real car salesman of Dubai.
None of the cars on display had a price – forcing one to speak to the “Boss Man”. Who when asked would without hesitation give you the price, model year and detailed spec breakdown of anyone vehicle. When pushed further they would also give you that vital bit of information as to how the car had come in to Dubai i.e. was it an “official” agency import, a personal import from the US or in some cases if it had come in for another GCC country.
Personally I would only buy a vehicle that had been officially imported – after all who wants to spend thousands of dollars on something that has no warranty or recourse? Others are braver than me and there are a vast number of car service dealers that can carry out basic maintenance though parts can be harder to source for un-official imports. For example here is a Dodge Charger SRT8 – it is a 2006 model with only 18K km on it. It was in pristine condition and offered neck wrenching 425BHP for $40,000:
Sadly it was an import from the US and never was brought in by the official Dodge agency – I am just too much of a worrier so I had to give it a miss.
I enjoyed the interaction with the “Boss Man” at each of the dealers. These guys wanted to do a deal. They want to negotiate. It was great. But ultimately after sweating in the mid-afternoon and looking at vast assortment of cars I was beaten. I just could not summon up the courage to take the plunge on a vehicle there. As I am no expert on cars – these are very much sold as seen and you really have to know what you are looking for before parting with your hard earned. It would have been way too easy to end up with a car that had originated from a dodgy source or had been re-build from a car accident. I am sure there are bargains to be had but this time I had to pass it up.
It will be back to the dealers for me, but the good news is that US and Japanese cars are vastly cheaper than in the UK and even the European models fair well with only 5% tax being applied to them despite the strong Euro.
Hopefully my search in more sterile environments will end in a week or two.