Skip to comments.In Destitute Albania, the Mercedes Rules the Road
Posted on 11/09/2002 10:11:23 PM PST by Destro
November 10, 2002
In Destitute Albania, the Mercedes Rules the Road
By DANIEL SIMPSON
TIRANA, Albania, Nov. 9 This may be one of the poorest countries in Europe and its bumpy, winding roads a world away from the German Autobahn, but the most popular car in Albania is the Mercedes-Benz.
More than a decade after Communist rule collapsed in the Balkans, most Romanians still drive copies of the boxy Renault 12, made by the local car company, Dacia. Traveling around Serbia, you are more likely to find yourself stuck behind a sluggish Yugo or Zastava than overtaken by the latest BMW.
But Albania is different.
Touring the dirt roads, mountain passes and highways of this coastal nation of 3.5 million people, it is possible to spot virtually every model of Mercedes produced since the 1970's. From the plushest new S-Class to battered sedans from a bygone era, they outnumber all other brands by as much as two to one.
Roadside shacks in remote villages advertise "Mercedes Service," and hawkers at city traffic lights peddle accessories like alloy hubcaps and steering wheel covers.
Where do all these luxury cars come from? Certainly not from the official Mercedes dealership on the outskirts of Tirana, the Albanian capital.
"We expect to sell about 50 cars this year," said Sokol Kodra, the showroom's chief salesman. "The people who come to us for a new vehicle are only interested in the most expensive models, and they have to pay cash."
On average, that means handing over a pile of banknotes worth $65,000 an amount that a majority of Albanians would take a lifetime to earn on their current salaries.
But for many Albanians who can afford a car at all, a Mercedes is the only option worth considering.
"They're robust and powerful ideal for the awful roads in this country and spare parts are easy to find," said Ilir Mansaku, a Tirana taxi driver who owns a 1990 version of the model that evolved into the E-Class. "They're also a bit of a status symbol. Who wants to drive anything else if you can have a Mercedes?"
At the main used-car market outside Durres, Albania's second-largest city, the going rate for some of the older sedans is around $4,000. There are plenty to choose from.
Several hundred polished Mercedes, mostly with German or Italian registration plates, are parked in formation in a muddy field strewn with litter and the livestock tended by subsistence farmers who live nearby.
"Have a look around," said a man in a leather jacket, brandishing a mobile phone. "If you can't see what you're looking for, you can leave us your number. There's always a good chance something will come in."
Most of the used vehicles on sale here have been imported perfectly legally. Many still bear the temporary registration plates that allow cars to be driven out of Germany and sold abroad, most often in Eastern Europe.
Back in 1990, when Albania threw off the Stalinist regime that had kept it isolated from the outside world for half a century, the first cars to pour into the country were decrepit old Fiats from Italy.
But an exodus of Albanians seeking work abroad soon transformed the market. Before long, people were driving back to visit their families in more impressive cars and leaving them behind when they returned to Western Europe.
Around one million Albanians emigrated during the last decade as the economy collapsed and the country at one point descended into anarchy. The remittances they send home help keep their relatives afloat and make the dream of car ownership an attainable reality.
More important, the émigrés keep the supply of Mercedes flowing.
"Every time I come back to Albania, I bring a Mercedes with me to sell," said Arjan Bano, who lives in Germany but returns to visit his family at least once a year. "I can't afford expensive cars, but you can pick up an older one for a couple of thousand dollars and make enough money to cover the cost of your trip."
Such entrepreneurship, more typical among Albanians than most of their Balkan neighbors, does not always respect the law.
"Many of the newest top-class cars that you see on the roads have been stolen," an Albanian government official said. "But they invariably come with keys and valid papers, usually because the owner has agreed to the theft in order to defraud their insurance company."
Once in Albania, almost every Mercedes is legitimately registered with the authorities in Tirana without further checks, making it difficult to trace stolen vehicles. DaimlerChrysler, the German company that owns the Mercedes brand, wants the system changed so that chassis numbers are compared with foreign police databases before Albanian plates are issued for a car.
"This system is in force all over Europe except in Albania," said Mr. Kodra, the salesman. "It destroys our business if people can buy the same car from someone else for a fraction of the price."
The reason all stolen cars in Europe, especially Mercedes and Mercedes parts seem to wind up in Albania is due to natural vortex forces and the Earth's rotation. Also, Destro, the business of running Europe's escort services and delivering low-cost Turkish non-prescription pharmaceuticals requires safe, reliable transportation, available at low cost.
Once again, the quaint and colorful people of Albania, our allies, are defamed by pro-Serb demagogues. Furthermore, you must try and be politically correct. A polite person never asks an Albanian their VIN number.
Hence i think Albanians driving the Mercedes cars is actually a prudent decision. Quite wise! After all usually the vehicles are gifts to them, or they buy old models for affordable prices. However that car (since it is a mercedes) will be drivable for many years to come due to the fact it is very well made. Most 10yr old Benzes are still in perfect working order. Compare that with most other models (that are not in the Mercedes category) and you will notice that most Japanese and American models (eg Toyota and Ford) really do not do well aftre a decade unless they are really given immaculate care. Actually by the 5th year most such cars are starting to give up ghost, or have so many problems it is cheaper to just buy another car.
However a mercedes will keep on giving for a long time under normal conditions.
How ethnic gangs like these must laugh at Western multi-culturalism. Political correctness compels us to look the way while they loot and pillage.
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