Oiling the wheels of the super-rich
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Nyi Nyi Lwin (left) and Jason Ang at the opening of Optima Werkz Yangon on September 3.