Luxury cars have become a commodity in Thailand due to the growing number of millionaires who flaunt their status with a prestige vehicle, even though they are priced at a premium in Thailand.

Imported vehicles pay four different taxes that make a car that costs about US$100,000 in another country cost the customer more than US$300,000. At these prices, only a small group of Thailand's 67 million people are in a position to legally contribute to the ever-growing fleet of hot rods and limousines that populate Bangkok's busy streets.

Corruption and smuggling offer an opportunity for more individuals to join this exclusive club. According to the Automotive Industries Club of the Federation of Thai Industries, up to 10,000 luxury vehicles enter the country illegally each year, mainly BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Rolls Royce.

black Audi R8 parked beside road

The Thai press has reported on more than one occasion that with contacts and at least USD 50,000 in bribes it is possible to obtain regulatory papers from bribable Customs Department officials. A vehicle bought for around 100,000 dollars in the UK, Australia, Hong Kong or any other territory that drives on the left, as in Thailand, and then imported into the Asian country as a second-hand car, in order to pay less duty, costs the final buyer half the official price.

This has formed what experts in Thailand refer to as the 'grey market', which supplies almost half of the country's car fleet. A common practice of car importers is to leave luxury cars in warehouses until a buyer can be found in order to save on the payment of fees.
Although the situation in Thailand has changed since the military took power in a bloodless coup on 22 May, corrupt practices are difficult to eradicate.

black Lexus car

The Customs Department admitted a few days ago that it has lost 500 imported luxury cars in its custody and did not rule out that they may have been stolen and then sold illegally without paying duties. Mercedes-Benz's Thai subsidiary sold 6,100 vehicles between January and August this year, an increase of 12 per cent.

"We expect the luxury car segment to grow by five to ten per cent this year and reach 20,000 vehicles," Mercedes-Benz president in Thailand said.

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