Why you can’t buy the best BMWs and Mercedes in Thailand

Table of contents

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Government meddling in markets 

BMW and Mercedes make some car parts in Thailand and import the rest, like the engine. They then assemble these various locally produced and imported parts into complete cars in Thailand. They do this to qualify the cars as locally made, which gets them tax breaks and avoids huge import duties that are levied on foreign made cars.

Beemer and Merc only do this for models and variants that will sell in good numbers in Thailand; which are the cheaper basic diesels. 

Diesel engines are also preferred due to government meddling, diesel is subsidized by the government to be artificially cheaper than petrol. 

BMW and Mercedes Thailand allow for very little customization. If buying in the USA or Europe you get dozens of options for exterior and interior colors and trims as well as optional features, packages and upgrades. In Thailand you get none of that, usually only a few boring exterior color choices.

Basic models only

It seems that Thai buyers’ preferences and priorities are the opposite of mine. I want maximum luxury and features. For example, a big powerful petrol engine, a light colored interior, wood trim, no carbon fiber, comfortable ventilated seats and an upgraded sound system. And I don’t mind paying for it.

Thais want the appearance of sportyness, so M or AMG style packs with carbon fiber and less comfortable sports seats. These are not real M and AMG cars with the upgraded engines, brakes, suspension and everything, that would be too expensive.

By prioritizing price we get a small underpowered diesel engines, the basic sound system and no ventilated seats. Lastly, almost no Beemers and Mercs sold in Thailand come with the option of a light colored interior.

There are 2 advantages to this business model for us car buyers. One is that the cars are cheap, the other is that they are mostly available for immediate delivery. The alternatives we will look into below tend to be more expensive and take 6-8 months to arrive.

Audis 

Audi is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They do not do the local assembly tax minimisation dance, they sell German made cars. So they have to pay large import fees, which BMW and Mercedes do not. 

However Audi must compete directly, on features and price with Beemer and Merc. This means that Audi also only sell the basic models of their cars in Thailand, with all the same drawbacks of BMW and Mercedes.

So BMWs, Mercedes & Audis in Thailand are monuments to compromise & government meddling in the economy through preferential & punitive tax levees & subsidies. And as a result, they are not at all to my taste.

How to get a powerful luxury BMW, Mercedes or Audi in Thailand

In the long run the only way we will get Ze Germans to offer their best cars is by not buying their basic ones; do one of these 4 things instead.

  • On the rare occasion they do sell a powerful luxurious car, buy it.
  • Privately import a powerful luxurious car.
  • Step up and buy a powerful luxurious car from another maker.
  • Step down and buy an equivalent car from another maker.

Let’s detail each one.

Exceptions to the rule

There are rare exceptions when BMW, Mercedes or Audi sell a top spec powerful luxurious model variant. Often when the company only makes top end variants of certain models or when they need a halo car. 

For example there is no basic version of the Mercedes Maybach GLS, there is only the petrol V8 with ventilated seats, an amazing sound system, light colored interior and all that. So that is all Mercedes can sell in Thailand. Same thing for the BWM XM.

With these exceptions you lose the 2 advantages of the basic business model. These top spec cars are not assembled in Thailand so we have to pay huge import duties and they are expensive. Also they are ordered individually so you have to wait 6-8 months for them. But you still don’t get the customisation options you would in the USA or Europe.

Recently they have started selling more real M, AMG and RS cars like

  • M3 Competition Touring
  • Mercedes AMG G-Wagon
  • Audi RS Q8

Personally I am more interested in the max luxury models than the max sport models, and these serious performance cars they sell are still not customizable like they are in the USA or Europe. They still only come with dark interiors with carbon fiber and lack luxury options like ventilated seating.

Privately import a BMW, Mercedes or Audi

You can privately import any car into Thailand but the process is slow, expensive and risky. In short, it’s a bad idea. You get no official warranty or service support from the car manufacturer like you would if you bought directly from a Thai dealership. Unless you go to the country of origin and get involved in the import process yourself, you can not be sure of the provenance of the car, is it a returned lemon? Have the Badges been swapped?

It might make sense if you are desperate to have something really special, for example a friend of mine imported a Brabus G-Wagon. In my case with BMW or Mercedes it would just be a high spec X5 or GLE which does not add up when compared to the alternatives of

  1. Get the base X5 or GLE from my local dealership. This is cheaper, quicker, less risky and comes with local ongoing service and warranty support.
    OR
  2. Get a Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, Maserati Levante or whatever from my local dealer. This way I get the type of car I want, with all my customizations and preferences, local ongoing service and warranty support and without the downsides of private importing. Which brings us to the next options.

Step up to a powerful luxurious Jaguar, Range Rover, Porsche, Maserati or Similar

All the brands I listed above offer fully customized cars just like if you were buying them in the USA or Europe. They are more expensive and less reliable than BMW, Mercedes or Audi. And you will have to wait 6-8 months for them to arrive. 

However you will get your big petrol engine, ventilated seats, light interior with wood trim, upgraded stereo and everything else you want, and that is more important. This is what I did by buying a couple of Range Rovers and I am planning to get a Maserati next. Am I happy? No not really, I would rather have been able to buy a top spec X5 or GLE from BMW or Mercedes Thailand and not be writing this rant, but in any case, this is an option. 

Step down to a Lexus, Volvo or similar

You might not think a Lexus or Volvo is as good as a Beemer, Merc or Audi. But in this case we are comparing the best, top spec variant of a Lexus or Volvo versus the worst most basic version of a BMW, Mercedes or Audi. That’s a very close contest and the Lexus or Volvo are cheaper. 

Hey, a lot of people even say the best new Mazda CX-60 and similar are 85% as good as a BMW. I would like to add Volkswagen and Alfa Romeo to this list but they are not sold in Thailand. 

You should spend good money on your car

These are good problems to have if you can afford any of these news cars. I know it’s new money trash but I think it’s worth spending as much as you can on your cars. In Thailand class and status matter and your car signals that, which effects how people treat you and the potential partners you can attract. 

People spend a lot of time in their cars and the most important days of your life usually involve using your car.  Arriving fresh and relaxed, and being treated better by people you meet on the most important days of your life is worth a lot.