Along Kampuchea Krom Blvd in Phnom Penh, workers at O.B.H. Car Shop are screwing a shimmering cap onto the centre hub of the wheels of a parked Range Rover SUV.
Once done, the workers step back, wipe away the sweat with the back of their hands and watch in awe while as the car drives away. The new wheels make the SUV stand out among all other cars on the street.
“It is a trend happening in town, where people like to make changes to their car wheels,” says Ou Bun Heng, O.B.H. shop owner. “I have some customers that are really into this trend and dare to spend.”
Cambodia’s new wheel trend is not cheap, and the decorative accessory can sometimes add significantly to the total price of a car.
“Sometimes customers pay more for the new wheels than the price of their car,” says the shop owner. “One set can cost up to thousands of dollars depending on the model and size.”
A curved-in, silvery black brass wheel, a 2013 Japanese model, is said to be the most expensive, and according to Ou Bun Heng it is the most preferred Japanese car part among his clients.
“For those who often make changes to their car, they know the latest styles and recognise the quality of the product,” he says.
This could be a lasting change in car trends in Cambodia. Once the product is available, the demand soars up. It is a new thing to see people living in a third world country who can afford to be part of this trend.
A 21-year-old car lover, Tiny, explains how he was first attracted to this trend: “I grew up seeing expensive cars around me,” he recalled. “I know what beautifies the car, and what doesn’t. A set of wheels has to be one of the main features that makes the car more stylish.”
Wheels have now become his hobby – while girls are crazy about shopping, he focuses more on cars. The first set of wheels he bought cost US$1,500, followed by a later change.
“Spending on new wheels is not a waste of money,” he says. “The thicker, stronger and bigger wheels can stabilise the car while driving, and can withstand some rough roads in the country.”
Following the trend does not mean getting new wheels all the time. Customers also come into O.B.H Car Shop to make changes to the ones they already have.
“If purchasing a new set is out of reach,” Ou Bun Heng says, “decorating the old ones with different colours and staging up some lights are the alternatives.”
At O.B.H, workers are stationed at the shop most of the time to keep up with the customer flow.
Not long after the Range Rover rolls out with its new accessory, a Toyota pulls in for a new set of wheels.
Although every day is not a busy day at the car shop, one set of wheels purchased a day is enough to sustain the business.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chanvetey Vann at firstname.lastname@example.org