Luxury cars are often seen as a sign of economic growth, but, in Georgia, the BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes tell a story about culture rather than the economy.
As elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, Georgian car ownership has been growing steadily, increasing by just over seven percent per year between 2008 and 2011, the latest year for which vehicle registration data is available.
With average household incomes at just 788.40 laris per month ($475.83), it might make sense that a moderately priced Opel Vectra, a family sedan, accounts for most of Georgia’s 800,000 registered vehicles. But in Tbilisi, home to nearly 39 percent of Georgia’s car owners, it is the black Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that rules the street.
Beka Tsintsadze is a 28-year-old home-appliances salesperson from a middle-class Tbilisi family. His monthly salary of about $700 is just slightly less than that of his parents, but, nonetheless, somehow sufficient for a glittering, $25,000 Range Rover Sport, a midsize 2008 SUV.
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Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist living in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to Eurasianet's Tamada Tales blog.