On Punjab’s Ludhiana-Ferozepur highway at his ‘Wedding Cars’ outlet, Talwinder Singh lifts a tarpaulin sheet to reveal a White Hummer H3 which he says was last in business this February. At the nearby ‘Royal Limos’ outlet, with one of the biggest fleets in the region, Gary Singh has a similar plight to share about his Chrysler 300 Limousine that has not drove out since February as well.
The Covid pandemic has hit the economy hard, as well as a novel and lucrative business in Punjab. Every year, Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) come home to Punjab from UK, Europe, the US and Canada for getting weddings done of their kin. For the wedding ceremony and to bring the bride home, they love to hire big luxury cars as a status symbol and to come as close to having the same works as a marriage done abroad.
On the Ludhiana-Ferozepur highway, one can spot a dozen such outlets in this business, with the choicest of luxury cars put on display for hire – from Chrsylers to Hummers, BMWs, Bentley, Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar and Volvo. In good times, it would cost about Rs 50,000 to hire a Chrysler or a Hummer for a day while about Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000 for the others. The BMW convertibles, whose roof opens, were a rage till last year as well.
But not any longer. The pandemic, the ban on flights from abroad and the lockdown has hit the business hard and it has practically shut down since February. “Business was slow since a year now. It revived a bit this winter between December and February but the second wave hit us very hard. Our main customers are NRIs who are not coming to Punjab due to the problem over flights,” Gary Singh told News18.
Talwinder Singh of ‘Wedding Cars’ says he has had to sell off five out of the 15 cars he owns as he is not able to pay the EMIs of the various car loans. He shows a Hummer H3, a BMW Convertible and a Bentley parked in his garage and says they have not been let out for last five months. “Hummer was a lot in demand and fetched about Rs 50,000 for a day. Now no one is ready to hire it even for Rs 5,000. We had to return advance in a lot of cases as marriages got called off,” he rues.
Singh adds that since marriages are not happening at a wide scale and limited gatherings are allowed due to Covid, people are choosing not to splurge on fancy cars as this is considered a luxury. “Even NRIs who came to Punjab early this year for weddings were tight on funds as the pandemic has hit them financially abroad too. All this has adversely impacted our business,” Singh says. He says they are staring at shutting shop if flights do not open completely to Canada and Europe. “The cost of maintaining these luxury cars is also very high,” he says.
Business was Booming till 2019
The business was booming till 2019 and many outlets had added to their fleet with bigger and better luxury cars. Even some locals have bought luxury cars for personal use which they used to let out to these outlets for subsequent hire by customers. The going rate then was about Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 for an Audi4 or an Audi 6 and Rs 30,000 for a BMW, Bentley or a Jaguar. “The craze was earlier for a Mercedes or an Audi but in recent years it is more for the Jaguars, Bentley and especially the BMW convertible,” says Talwinder Singh.
The biggest draw, however, remained the Chrysler 300 Limousine and the Hummer. Those wanting a royal experience of a long car with plush interiors were ready to pay up to Rs 50,000 for a Limousine. The Hummer, which has featured in Punjabi songs sung by popular international artists, has led to demand for the same as it portrays a “muscular Punjabi image” during weddings, says Singh. Right now, however, both the Limousine and Hummer are cooling in the garage.