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Porsche seeks niche among Cambodia's nouveau riche

The wizened cyclo driver, cigarette in mouth, muscles taut from pedalling up and down French-style boulevards, is one of Indochina's enduring romantic images. But cyclos on the streets of Phnom Penh are now outnumbered by another means of transport - the luxury car.

While Cambodia is still one of the poorest nations in Asia, with one-third of the population living on less than Bt30 a day, it has seen rapid economic growth. Nowhere are the beneficiaries of that newfound wealth more evident than on the streets of the capital.

The sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) with black-tinted windows have long been the vehicle of choice for the country's nouveau riche, but a new and even more prestigious brand is coming to town - Porsche.

"When I arrived here I was amazed at the cars. My expectations were motorcycles. I was shocked when I saw the amount of luxury vehicles on the road," said Graeme Hunter, general manager of Lei Shing Hong, a Hong Kong-based company bringing the Porsche brand to Cambodia.

"Let's not get away from it, it's not a wealthy country and there are a lot of poor people." But with the urban elite's growing fixation with brand-name cars, Porsche is confident that there's a market, and it aims to cater to Cambodian tastes and terrain.

"The main volume model here will be the Cayenne sporting SUV, just because it's most suited to the environment here in terms of the roads," Hunter said of potholed city streets and rougher off-road dirt tracks in the rural areas.

"You look around and you see the preference here for luxury vehicles is definitely sporting SUVs. You see a lot of Range Rovers compared to traditional saloons."

Hunter concedes that the brand's signature model is the sleek, racy Porsche 911, but he said the environment did not lend itself well to sports cars. Unlike in Europe, where one might take a Porsche for a spin in the countryside really to feel the speed, in Cambodia the country roads are too rough."Definitely the Cayenne can go anywhere, it can go off-road," Hunter said.

A showroom to be built this year will have some 911 and Panamera models, as well as a new model called the Macan, a smaller version of the Cayenne.

Finn Viggo Gundersen, general manager of Land Rover distributor Envotech, said he welcomed the competition, but noted that one challenge the German brand would also face was the fact that many Cambodians purchase their cars on the "grey market".




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