In the Emirates, Only the Most Costly Cars Will Do

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In Dubai, you are what you drive. The presence here of the rarest, most insanely overpowered supercars is a seeming triumph of flashiness over common sense. You'll find every type of "pimped-up ride" from the tasteless, naff and common, to the tasteless, naff and chic. The Emirati passion for high-performance bling seems undimmed by currency fluctuations, deleveraging cycles and civil unrest.

Traditionally, supercars in Dubai were for rich locals. Now, foreigners, hotels and even emergency services are catching up. The sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel recently added four Phantom Series II Rolls-Royces to its fleet of six. The Waldorf Astoria has launched its new Driving Experience: guests can take off in a Ferrari, a McLaren and a Porsche.

The Dubai police force has meanwhile topped up its fleet of high-performance "pandas". The BMW i8, a plug-in hybrid, adds eco-credibility to the force's garage of gas-guzzlers, including a Bentley, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Aston Martin.

This real-life concours d'elegance has further to run. The Al Habtoor Group is already the largest Bentley Motors dealership in the world. This year it will unveil the first of a series of giant Bentley showrooms. It will be "more like a luxury hotel", says Karl Hamer, Al Habtoor's sheepskin overcoat, "with valet parking, a boutique, luxury lounges, and a panoramic lift".

It's hard to tell whether these supercars are lifeboats or deckchairs. The demand reflects resilience in the luxury market. "The Middle East consumer base ... is rapidly growing," says Cyrille Fabre of Bain & Co. The luxury car market, especially supercars, is "predicted to post solid growth".

Insurance is cheap; petrol, even cheaper at €0.43/litre. A Range Rover here costs the same as a VW Golf anywhere else. Cultural factors apply. "To Middle Easterners, the Emirates are the 'land of the free'," explains Jan Moenkedieck, GM of the Waldorf Astoria. "Cars symbolise freedom. Many Emiratis would prefer a luxury car to a luxury apartment."

As Bain & Co reports: "In emerging markets, luxury vehicles are seen as symbols of status and as social enablers." And markets don't get more emerging, more status-symbolled and more socially enabling than Dubai. When Dubai World Central, the new €73 billion airport, opens in 2027, it will handle 160 million passengers a year, more than twice the present volume at Dubai International. Fasten your seatbelts for accelerated Emirati growth.