The car buying spree continues in 2021 with 2,300 imports in four months

Yangyel Lhaden

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the economy and livelihoods, but one sector that was not affected, going by records, is the import of motor vehicles.

In 2020, the pandemic year, the country imported vehicles worth Nu 6.6 billion (B) which was 3.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). About 5,550 new vehicles were registered with the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA). The list includes about 350 government vehicles, more than 700 taxis and 4,500 vehicles bought by private individuals.

Vehicles bought in 2020 range from Maruti Suzuki’s Alto 800 to Range Rovers, Porsche and Toyota Land cruisers. Some of the luxury cars cost more than Nu 10 million (M). Records Kuensel got show that 18 individuals bought luxury cars worth between Nu 8M and 10M.

Toyota Land cruiser, Range Rover, and Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid cost more than  Nu 10M.

Government agencies purchased 180 light vehicles, 71 two-wheelers, seven electric vehicles (EV) and 44 heavy earth moving machines. Altogether the government had spent roughly Nu 772M on vehicles in 2020. A source said that while the vehicles were delivered last year, some could have been ordered in the previous year, 2019.  For instance, big cars from Toyota take about two to four months to reach the country.

Private individuals bought more than 4,500 vehicles worth more than Nu 5.27B. An analysis of the list of vehicles imported show that most bought vehicles in 2020 were Kia’s Seltos and Maruti’s Celerio. About 550 private individuals bought Seltos and about 540 bought Celerio.

Seltose, the sports utility van, cost between Nu 1M and Nu 1.6M whereas Celerio, a small five seater car, is priced between Nu 500,000 and Nu 800,000 depending on options.

Bhutanese also bought 500 Boleros, the utility van manufactured by Mahindra, 19 EV, five hybrid, and about 140 earth moving machines. The most earth moving machine bought was Kobelco with 62 buyers.

The buying spree  continues

As of March 31, there are 113,745 vehicles in the country out of which 60,432 are in Thimphu, according to RSTA records published on its website. In the first quarter of 2021, import of vehicles reached about Nu 3B, which according to rough estimate is already 1.51 percent of the GDP. Until last month, April, about  2,300 vehicles were imported.

The government imported about 100 vehicles, private individuals’ imported more than 2,000 vehicles, and 191 taxis. Among the list are 175 earth moving machines with the government buying five and private 170.

ISUZU’s  pickup truck and Bolero are the most bought utility vehicles. About 170 ISUZU pickup trucks and 300 Boleros were bought from January to April end this year. Among cars, Kia’s Seltos and Sonet dominated import with more than 360 new vehicles.

With effect from July 1, 2020 the government suspended the import of luxury motor vehicles and bikes where the value exceeds USD 40,000 and USD 10,000 or its equivalent.

In 2020, government bought four Toyota Land cruisers and 13 Toyota Hilux. Whereas private individuals bought 22 Land cruiser Prado, three Land cruiser, and five Hilux.

In 2021 till end of April, the government bought two Land cruiser and one Land cruiser was imported by a private individual.

Some people said people would have been able to buy vehicles during the pandemic because of the Royal Kidu.

One of the business man in Thimphu said he benefitted in several millions because of the fiscal and monetary measures put in place as a part of the Royal Kidu. “Many are quick to avail the benefits of Kidu that might have led people buying vehicles even in a pandemic year.”

Another person said those people not affected by the pandemic must have benefitted from the loan interest waiver and loan payment deferment. “It is Bhutanese nature to buy cars whenever they have extra income.”