Oil­ing the wheels of the su­per-rich

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - International Business - KANG WAN CHERN chern@mm­times.com

NYI Nyi Lwin, owner of newly opened lux­ury car work­shop Op­tima Werkz Yangon, first de­vel­oped a love for fast cars dur­ing his univer­sity years in Aus­tralia about a decade ago. That pas­sion has grown in the years since he be­gan deal­ing in lux­ury cars since re­turn­ing to Yangon.

To­day, he and his fam­ily, who run lo­cal jewelry, to­bacco and real es­tate con­glom­er­ate Fo­cus Star Co, have amassed at least 20 lux­ury ve­hi­cles parked at their home, in­clud­ing sev­eral Bent­leys, Rolls Royces and a yel­low Lam­borgh­ini. There were two Fer­raris in the fleet once, but they have been sold.

Flashy Fer­raris and gleam­ing Lam­borgh­i­nis may not be a com­mon sight in Myan­mar due to poor road con­di­tions and ex­or­bi­tant im­port taxes, but a small group of su­per rich car en­thu­si­asts still en­joy col­lect­ing them. Be­sides Nyi Nyi Lwin and his fam­ily, Htoo Group chair and bil­lion­aire U Tay Zar and U Zaw Zaw, who runs the Max Myan­mar Group of Com­pa­nies, are among the coun­try’s most avid lux­ury car col­lec­tors.

Ac­cord­ing to Nyi Nyi Lwin’s es­ti­mates, there are cur­rently around 60 Rolls Royce mod­els, at least 40 Bent­leys and sev­eral Fer­raris and one Bu­gatti in Myan­mar. Pye Phyo Tay Za, who is U Tay Za’s son, owns the Bu­gatti.

No de­pre­ci­a­tion

Even though the cars are sel­dom driven, each must be ser­viced and main­tained reg­u­larly to pre­serve their value in the sec­ond hand mar­ket. “In Myan­mar; lux­ury cars and high-end sports cars gen­er­ally do not de­pre­ci­ate in value be­cause they are usu­ally col­lec­tors’ items and sta­tus sym­bols and are sel­dom used. But the own­ers still have to spend lots of money to keep them ser­viced and well-main­tained so that the cars can be resold in the sec­ond hand mar­ket,” Nyi Nyi Lwin said.

Up un­til this month, Nyi Nyi Lwin and his fel­low lux­ury car en­thu­si­asts were forced to search over­seas in Sin­ga­pore, Bangkok and even the US for re­place­ment parts for their cars and they had to fly teams of qual­i­fied me­chan­ics from those coun­tries to Yangon to ser­vice the cars. “The me­chan­ics usu­ally cost US$1,000 and more per day, ex­clud­ing room and board. Also, search­ing for the right parts and work­shops over­seas was not easy. Some work­shops only ser­viced GT-RS and not sports cars, for ex­am­ple,” he said.

So, when Nyi Nyi Lwin fi­nally found one Sin­ga­pore work­shop, Op­tima Werkz, which pro­vided end –toend ser­vices for ev­ery type of car, he quickly ne­go­ti­ated a deal with its owner, Ja­son Ang, to open Op­tima Werkz in Yangon.

“This was the only work­shop af­ter so many I had vis­ited that dealt with the whole range of cars from sports to lux­ury. And since there are no good lux­ury car work­shops and me­chan­ics in Myan­mar, it made good busi­ness sense to set up a work­shop with trained me­chan­ics to cater to my own fleet as well as other car own­ers,” he said.

“Plus, the qual­ity of their ser­vice was top notch. I was very sat­is­fied and im­pressed by how they han­dled the cars. In Myan­mar, if you send a car back to its owner in bad con­di­tion, your rep­u­ta­tion is gone,” he added.

New work­shop

On Septem­ber 3, Op­tima Werkz Yangon, which cost Nyi Nyi Lwin some US$1.4 mil­lion to set up, opened its doors at 99 Thanl­win Street. Since then, busi­ness has been boom­ing. “We have man­aged to get a lot of new cus­tomers in­clud­ing U Zaw Zaw and U Tay Za. They just keep com­ing in. So far, the re­turn rate for the work­shop is around 3 per­cent, which is pretty good. How­ever, we need to prove our­selves first be­fore Pye Phyo Tay Za sends his Bu­gatti in for ser­vic­ing,” said Nyi Nyi Lwin.

No­tably, Op­tima Werkz Yangon has launched at a time when im­port taxes on new ve­hi­cles has shot up sub­stan­tially un­der the Na­tional League for Democ­racy gov­ern­ment. Now, taxes on lux­ury cars are 160pc of the car price. The gov­ern­ment also pro­hibits the im­port of coupes, or two-door cars. How will that af­fect busi­ness?

Nyi Nyi Lwin con­ceded that “no mat­ter how much rich you are, far fewer peo­ple im­port cars like the Lam­borgh­ini or Bent­ley any­more be­cause the taxes are just not worth it. A 2014 Rolls Royce Phan­tom, for ex­am­ple, would cost US$2 mil­lion in­clu­sive of tax. The car it­self is just around US$500,000. In the past, im­ports taxes were much lesser, at 60pc-100pc.”

But there are still peo­ple im­port­ing lux­ury cars like the Mercedes and BWM. “Ev­ery­thing is paid for in cash be­cause many still pre­fer con­vert­ing their money into ma­te­rial things like lux­ury cars. And, there is still a big mar­ket of ex­ist­ing own­ers to ser­vice, in­clud­ing our own fleet,” he said. “For now, we will fo­cus on our cus­tomers and build­ing up trust in our ser­vices.”

Photo: Aung Khant

Bent­leys form part of the lux­ury fleet owned by Nyi Nyi Lwin and his fam­ily. Nyi Nyi Lwin’s yel­low Lam­borgh­ini at the work­shop on open­ing day.

Photo: Supplied

Nyi Nyi Lwin (left) and Ja­son Ang at the open­ing of Op­tima Werkz Yangon on Septem­ber 3.

Photo: Kang Wan Chern

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