Judging from the plethora of SUVs and other luxury cars clogging the streets of Athens, one would surmise that the Greeks are fast morphing into a new breed of motorists whose vehicles mirror their much-inflated egos. With the roads and highways in Greece really not built to meet the challenge of such powerful driving machines costing more than 100,000 euros, they are prestige toys for the rich and famous, ranging from shipowners, businessmen and corporate executives to popular bouzouki singers. The fact that many of the models are 8-cylinder cars with more than 400 horsepower under their hoods propelling them up to 350 kmph, attests to the competitive spirit of the old and nouveau riche in today’s Greece and probably justifies the minister of economy’s recent decision to include «black and gray money» in the country’s gross domestic product. It also somewhat supports the adage that Greece is a poor country with rich people. A Porsche or a Ferrari are still considered a prize possession, but the latest «must have» is a hand-made Bentley. According to the Association of Motor Vehicle Importers-Representatives (AMVIR), there are about 4.2 million passenger cars circulating in Greece, a country with a population of just over 10 million. This represents an increase by 40 percent in the number of passenger cars in the last five years, the highest percentage in Europe for the period. Industry sources report that in recent years there as been an unprecedented trend for high-priced cars with large engines. The rise in the profitability of large companies and the circulation of tax-free «black money» increase the buying power of certain types of customers and consequently the number of luxury cars, 4×4 vehicles and two-seater roadsters. Sales of SUVs and luxury 4×4 vehicles have doubled in the last five years, despite soaring petrol prices and a shrinking in the number of parking spaces in Athens, particularly in the city center. Data from AMVIR show that sales of sport utility vehicles last year hit 9,288 compared with 4,010 in 2001. Sales of 4×4 vehicles also showed strong growth, rising to 17,208 in 2005 from 10,292 in 2001. Leading the pack in the higher price bracket are the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5. The Lamborghini Murcielago and Gallardo as well as the Maserati Quattroporte are also a Greek predilection in recent years. In the coupe and roadster categories, 218 new Porsches hit Greece’s roads last year, compared with 71 in 2003. Ferrari lovers also appear to multiplying; only nine cars were sold in 2003 compared with 15 so far this year. The growing popularity of super-luxury cars among affluent Greek consumers has opened the door for automakers to roll out a whole new generation of innovative vehicles laden with automotive technology, power and luxury. Incorporating the latest in performance, convenience and safety features that an automaker has to offer, the current luxury car market includes sedans, coupes and convertibles, most of them offered by traditional luxury brands. Realizing the potential of this lucrative market, American automakers such as Cadillac, Dodge, Chrysler, and Lexus (through the Toyota global family) are competing with the European and Asian brand names. Roadster Duel The new trend has also resulted in marketing and sales duels. For example, to compete with the successful BMW X5, Mercedes Benz, which has no less than 20 models on the Greek market, brought out its ML 4×4 with prices ranging from 65,000 euros to 180,000 euros and the two German brand names are dueling with their BMW Z4 M and SLK 55 AMG roadsters. According to AMVIR, car companies and their agents spent 153 million euros last year on advertising their models. However, to launch its ML model, Mercedes-Benz did not resort to the media – print, billboards or television. Instead, its distributors personally invited Mercedes owners and prospects for a test drive in a car circuit in Keratea, outside Athens. According to Nikos Ioannou, marketing executive at EKKA, one of the leading distributors, the car sold itself. «Three hours after the test drive, people were ordering the new car,» he says. In a segment all its own, the uber-luxury car – the Aston Martin DB9, Bentley Arnage, Maserati Quattroporte, Rolls Royce Phantom, Mercedes-Benz CL Class and the Maybach – is almost equal to possessing a rare work of art. With a price tag of 600,000 euros, at present there are only two Maybachs in Greece. One is reportedly owned by Mrs Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the successful president of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Organizing Committee. The other is owned by a rich confectioner. There is also a sole Bentley Arnage, which goes for a mere 425,000 euros.