Super cars, premium beers help rich Indians beat blues

MUMBAI Mon Jun 22, 2009 12:58pm IST

A bartender prepares a drink for customers at a bar in a luxury hotel in Mumbai November 22, 2008, file photo. REUTERS/Arko Datta

A bartender prepares a drink for customers at a bar in a luxury hotel in Mumbai November 22, 2008, file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Arko Datta

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MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - The world economy is struggling and India is growing at its slowest pace in six years, but that hasn't stopped the wealthy from downing premium beers and revving up their super-luxury cars.

The global financial crisis has hit Asia's third-largest economy harder than expected, more than halving the number of billionaires to 24, according to Forbes magazine, but marketers are upbeat about prospects for sporty cars and luxury holidays.

"There's nothing like a spin in one of these beauties to make you feel better," said Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar magazine, pointing to a flaming red Ferrari and a bright orange Lamborghini rolling to a stop outside a stylish restaurant.

Autocar, along with textile tycoon and car buff Gautam Singhania, launched India's first Supercar Club at the weekend, to bring together the growing number of luxury car owners.

Car sales are struggling in India, but that didn't stop Audi from opening a 10,000-sq. ft. showroom in Mumbai, not far from a showroom for Rolls Royce and a spanking new one for Jaguar and Land Rover, the luxury UK brands owned by India's Tata Motors.

"We have a critical mass of luxury car brands now and owners who are keen to connect," said Sorabjee, who expects the club will have about 200 invited members to begin with.

The club's members, along with the more than 123,000 millionaires in India, are also the target of global luxury apparel and jewellery labels as well as wine and beer brands.

Consumption of beer in India, traditionally a whisky-swigging nation, has been on the rise, helped by a young population and launches by brewers including Budweiser, Carlsberg and Heineken.

But the market, estimated at about 1.4 billion litres last year by Euromonitor, is almost entirely made up of lager.

Which makes it perfect for craft beers, according to Habeeb Kamaal, chief executive of TVB Group in India, which has launched five beers and ales, all branded Little Devils.

"The beer market is growing fast, incomes are rising and there is a young population that is keen for new experiences, so it is the perfect time," he said, demonstrating how to pair the beers with Indian foods such as kebabs and biriyani.

Little Devils is priced at a premium to most other beers in the market, but despite the gloomy economic environment, Kamaal is confident of frothy sales in a country where per capita beer consumption is just over a litre a year.

"We're sure growth in the Indian beer market will be in small, niche beers like these," he said.

Exclusivity is where it's at, Sorabjee agrees, with one complaint: "It's all very well to own a Ferrari, but where would you drive it? There's not one suitable road in the city."

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