Next country to be dusted off as I haven’t covered it in almost 3 years is Kyrgyzstan. What is striking when viewing recent videos of the streets of the capital Bishkek is the complete absence of new cars, to such an extent where I wondered whether all these videos were actually taken in the late nineties/early noughties… There are a few explanations to this madness. Firstly, contrary to neighbouring Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, current legislation in Kyrgyzstan allows right-hand cars to be imported and used in the country. This means used Japanese cars can be imported directly from the source.
Market in At-Bašy, Kyrgyzstan. Picture by Böltürük (Trondheim), all rights reserved.
Secondly, the country’s political instability - ethnic conflicts, revolts, economic troubles and the April 2010 revolution that overthrew the president – have prevented international car manufacturers to establish a dealership network in Kyrgyzstan. The American Embassy in Kyrgyzstan reported that in 2008 only Hyundai, Lada and Mitsubishi had certified dealers in the country. In fact, Toyota only opened a representative office in Bishkek in April 2012, and launched the Hilux in Kyrgyzstan in December of that year.
Bishkek streets are filled with 1990s second hand Mercedes. Picture by neilbeer, all rights reserved.
As a result, used cars in Kyrgyzstan, being virtually the only option, are extremely well taken care of (reports from outdoor car markets even say ‘mint condition’ for 90s cars!) and retain their value for way longer than in other parts of the world. A very unique situation to be in for Kyrgyzstan. Who would have thought? The only official used car sales data I could find was housed on local website auto.doska.kg which seems to be the #1 used car website in the country.
It showed Toyota in the lead with 17% of the used car market in May 2013, followed by Honda at 14%, Mercedes at 11%, Lexus at 8%, Subaru at 7%. Nissan at 6%, BMW and Volkswagen at 3.7%, Audi at 3.4% and Mitsubishi at 3.2%. Although this ranking would vary greatly from month to month, auto.doska.kg reported that the Toyota-Honda-Mercedes podium, nicknamed the “magnificent troika”, have held these positions consistently for months, perhaps years.
Model-wise, again this is used car data, the Toyota Camry leads the way in May 2013 with 3.9% share, ahead of the Lexus RX300 and Subaru Legacy both at 3.4% share and the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester at 2.9% each. June data indicates the Honda Odyssey is also strong in the country.
So in this context, who if anyone buys new cars? This luxury seems to be reserved to members of the government, even though most officially earn only $1,000 a month which is already way above the average salary for Kyrgyzstan. Let’s just start by mentioning that Kyrgyzstan was ranked 164 out of 183 in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. This has reached such proportions that local website kloop.kr uses crowd-sourced photos to identify each luxury vehicle and their government owner, estimating how long it would take for an average person to pay for that specific car.
…while the average Kyrgyzstani family can only afford a 1970 Lada. Picture by Eric Lafforgue.
This is where we learn for example that Deputy Nariman Tyuleev owns a Mercedes G-Class valued at US$91,000 which should in normal circumstances (read corruption-less) take him 8 years to pay-off without eating and by living on the street, and the average working Bishkek resident about 40 years, or that Deputy Azamat Arapbayev drives a 2008 Lexus LX570 valued at US$87,000 when imported into the country, which would take him 6 years to reimburse or the average working Bishkek resident about 28 years (with no other expenses).
More photos and Bishkek street video below.