Even though the only BMW showroom and integrated workshop in Cambodia won’t open until November 1, there are already 300 to 400 of the high-end German cars on the streets of Cambodia already – but these and most other luxury cars in the country have not been produced for Cambodia. The result is the current wave of engines blowing up, driving luxury car owners to despair. Peter Brongers, CEO of BMW Cambodia and exclusive importer of new BMWs under the Royal Group, explains to Julius Thiemann why buying cars (not only BMWs) and service from the official importer is a far better option for real car lovers.
The showroom looks completely ready. Why is the opening only happening in one month?
Peter Brongers: The opening date is set jointly by BMW Asia and us. Though it looks almost complete, we are in fact still waiting for a lot of equipment that is coming from Germany like all the furniture, maintenance tools and equipment. Brands like BMW are very stringent on maintaining brand identity. Of course, the showroom is our [the Royal Group’s] design and we are the owners, but we had to build it all within retail standards set by BMW. Colours, dimensions, height of the ceiling and even the plants that decorate the room are defined in these retail standards. The result is that if you enter a BMW showroom anywhere in the world you get the same feeling. It creates the distinguished and solid, German brand identity that we want to establish.
Will you offer the whole range of cars that is produced in Germany?
We offer the whole range of models, from the 3-series to the X6. For the moment we will only sell cars with gasoline engines, no diesel engines or hybrids yet. Of course, all our cars are produced in Germany too.
Is there no demand for cars with these kinds of engines in the market?
The issue is the quality of gasoline and diesel available in Cambodia. It is not high enough to make certain engines work perfectly on the long term. We only sell cars with engines that are especially modified for Cambodian circumstances such as humidity, temperature, fuel quality etc.
Are the fuels available in Cambodia suitable for all gasoline engines BMW offers?
We won’t sell the M3 or M5 because the available engine modification is simply not appropriate to run smoothly. That doesn’t mean that they don’t run at all, but you will have to make some serious repairs after two or three years because the carbon content in the fuel too is too high for the engines.
How does that work for all the Porsches, Rolls Royces and other luxury cars you see driving around in Phnom Penh? They have very delicate engines.
All these cars you see are grey imports from abroad and have been produced for different markets. For example, most of the Rolls Royce engines you see here are made for the American market. All these cars are having problems now. The engines block up and there is nobody who can give you the necessary service.
Will you service brands other than BMW?
We may service the Mini in the future, but other than that, no.
Offering exclusive car sales and after-sales service is quite new to Cambodia. Will people make use of the whole package?
There is an educational part in our marketing. Many Cambodians don’t know what an exclusive importer or a warranty is yet. They have been used to buying second-hand cars, grey imports with no knowledge of the history of the car. People buy used cars, even broken cars, and are used to have them constantly repaired in one of the many garages that are all over the place.
So what are the advantages of buying a new car over an old car that costs far less money?
There are so many reasons. Just to mention a few: You never know how the car was treated before you buy it. You get the warranty for the first years. You are sure that the car has no history. You get the latest gizmos and accessories. You get higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions as the technology always improves. You need a lot less maintenance in the first years. Cars become safer every year.
As a member of the car dealers association of Cambodia, I could give you some really bad examples of dangerous cars and we are trying some action to get at least dangerous cars off the roads. At the moment the legislation is not sufficient. In Thailand you cannot import a car that is older than five years, but if you want to import a car that is older than 20 years into Cambodia that is no problem. At the moment Cambodia runs the risk of becoming the used car dump of the world.
Most expensive cars on Cambodia’s roads are SUVs so far. Will Cambodians develop a taste for the sportier cars that BMW offers?
Of course, SUVs will never disappear from the roads because the road conditions are still quite bad. But this country will become more like any other country. Of course there will always remain a large market for people who want SUVs like the BMW X series and there is also a market for people who want a sporty car like the BMW Z4 which we also offer.
Do you think service and maintenance for all these cars can make a bigger share of your business than selling new cars?
It is a combination of these two. We sell cars and one of the reasons customers buy from us is that they know that we support them for the long term and will always provide the necessary service. We will also always assist BMW drivers who bought a BMW before we opened. From a commercial point of view new car sales and car maintenance are two sides of the same coin. They are both as important.
You are offering the same range of cars that other companies offer as well for less money. What will people get for the extra money they pay for a BMW?
It is not really the same range. BMW brings cars on the market that go beyond just “German quality”. The driving experience of a BMW is unique and we see that with our customers coming back from a demo drive. BMW is a combination of technical innovation, highest safety standards, unparalleled comfort and German quality.
* In Cambodia the highest gasoline quality available reaches Euro 3 standards. An M5, for example, needs Euro 5 standards however.