What recession?


For those that don’t know it, I live in Portugal. It’s one of the three countries of the Eurozone that had to be bailed out because it was verging on bankruptcy, which would lead the average person to think that the Portuguese wouldn’t have much money to spend on things, especially cars. Now, I like to think of a country’s habits when it comes to the acquisition of cars as a sort of barometer of said country’s economic health, since buying a car is usually the second biggest personal investment people make in their lives, after a house.

This should be especially true in Portugal, where buying and running a car is extremely expensive, both compared to what people earn and what it costs abroad. Fuel prices are astronomically high, and according to official figures, only Denmark, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands have dearer petrol. Toll-free motorways are a thing of the past, and though that might not seem so bad to foreigners, but to us it means every journey or commute out of town is precious dosh lining someone else’s pockets instead of our own. Plus, lots of areas of the country depend on tourists coming in from Spain, and these tourists now don’t come here because it’s awkward and expensive to use our motorways, but I digress.

To top it off, cars here are amazingly overpriced, both used and new, but I’ll stick to new cars since that’s complicated enough as it is. To illustrate, let’s use Europe’s best-selling car, the VW Golf, as an example. In its native Germany, prices start at €16,975, in France, at €16,790, in Spain, a more expensive €18,820 and in the UK, £15,865, which for the purpose of this comparison, is €18,968. Portugal? A whopping €21,800, nearly €3000 more than the most expensive of the other aforementioned markets!

So one would think that cars wouldn’t sell much, in Portugal, what with gargantuan prices and deep recession. And on the face of it, you’d think that was the case, with January 2012 sales plummeting nearly 50% when compared to the same month in 2011, and February 2012 sporting the same sort of numbers. However, look again. In both January and February, Audi, Mercedes and BMW made the top ten. In February, Merc, BMW and Audi sold a combined total of 1,332 cars. So of the 6,932 cars sold in Portugal, 1 in 5 was a German luxury car. And that’s not counting the thriving used-car import market, which consists mainly of E-Class Mercs and Audi A3’s.

I could go on and lace some more layers of fact on this already iron-clad evidence that Portugal is living beyond its means, that it’s chock-full of idiots who only look at badges and how unevenly and third-worldly money is distributed here, but I think the point’s been made. It’s a miracle Europe bailed us out.

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