Khalifa Juma Al Nabooda, Chairman, (seated) and his son, Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, Managing Director, of Khalifa Juma Al Nabooda Group of Companies, with K.Rajaram, the CEO of Al Nabooda Automobiles.
He lights a cigar as we speak; he has the air of a man who has achieved much and is now at that point in his life when he can sit back and bask in the glory of it. K.Rajaram, CEO of Al Nabooda Automobiles, is one of those businessmen, who can easily claim that they live and work their passions.
He is surrounded by Audis, Porsches and Volkswagens every day of his working life and breathes the refined air of the luxury automotive business world, overseeing five modern showrooms in Dubai, Sharjah and Fujairah. He smiles as he speaks, “Cars and motorbikes have been my life-long passions. I am fortunate that I am able to make money out of it too, in the bargain.”
A passion that has bloomed over the three decades that Rajaram has been in this region, most of it associated with the same brands that he represents today, “I came to the Middle East about 34 years ago and my history with Audi / Volkswagen goes back to almost the same period. I spent a lot of time in Oman in the initial years and came to Dubai in 1994-95. This gave us a great advantage as Dubai was just beginning to boom – we were in the right place at the right time and our brands grew. When I came here, we used to sell only around 330 cars a year with all three brands put together and now we sell more than 7000 of them in a year. We are, today, the world’s biggest Porsche dealer.”
Established in 1976 as a part of Khalifa Juma Al Nabooda Group, Al Nabooda Automobiles LLC are the authorised dealers in Dubai and Northern Emirates for Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen. As exclusive distributors for these coveted automobile marques, Al Nabooda offers customers a range of products and services that match the typical German standards and professionalism of the companies they represent.
Rajaram puts this in perspective for us, saying “The vision and foresight of our Chairman, Mr. Khalifa Juma Al Nabooda, has been interpreted into reality by his son, Mr. Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda, who as the Managing Director of the group has ensured that high quality specialised services, highly skilled work-force, professional management and a firm commitment towards continuous improvement in the standards of service are factors that have combined to make Al Nabooda one of the friendliest and most approachable automobile companies in the UAE.”
Rajaram has ambitious plans for the brands and after having commissioned a 120,000sq.ft. dedicated Porsche after-sales facility in Al Quoz, Dubai, a few years back his team is hard at work, building a massive state-of-the-art showroom meant for Audi vehicles. The AED100 million Audi Terminal, located between the second and third interchange on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, will be Audi’s biggest new car showroom worldwide when commissioned later this year. He says, “We wanted to be on Sheikh Zayed Road. When we got this land last year, we decided that this would give us an opportunity to stand out in the premium segment.”
Following record sales figures in recent months, the German car manufacturer is now increasing capacities in a bid to become the number one premium brand in the UAE and Middle East market.
Rajaram says, “Last year we sold 1800 Audis and our target is to sell 3000 Audis – the market is there. A perfectly engineered car and a beautiful design is what define each Audi. We have a lot of women customers who drive Audis. Women like the Audi for its exterior and men like it for its engineering. The result is that Audi’s growth has been exceptional over the last years – in terms of volume and products.”
Speaking on the subject of recession that comes up in every business conversation; Rajaram is unfazed. “We have been very fortunate that we were not affected much by the recession. On the other hand, our concerns are more about sustaining momentum and planning our projected growth. After 2003 Audi changed their philosophy of design and expanded their model range. We have grown in percentage terms far more than our competitors over the years. We now have a plethora of models to show.”
That is where the new facility fits in. Upon completion, the five-floor building would house showrooms on three levels and offer display space for up to 60 cars, becoming Dubai’s first multi-floor car showroom, using an extensive array of lifts to move display vehicles to the second and third floors. Audi customers will enjoy valet parking service, an escalator and a panoramic lift as well as state-of-the-art multimedia technology, including a power wall dedicated to virtual vehicle customisation.
In addition to the Sheikh Zayed Road project Al Nabooda Automobiles would be opening new facilities in Fujairah, also in 2012, and in Sharjah in 2013, totalling the investment for Audi to approximately AED200 million across the three new showrooms.
Speaking about his personal preference, “Most of the time I am chauffeur-driven; so, for me, rear-seat comfort is important. Therefore, my usual choice is the Audi. With the Porsche, you have to drive it yourself to enjoy it. Of course, in this market people are very knowledgeable about the Porsche brand.”
We recall that apart from cars he had mentioned motorbikes as one of his passions. He explains, “I always have a collection of bikes. Right now I have a Honda, a BMW and a Harley Davidson. Similarly, I also have a collection of watches. If I like the touch and feel of a watch I buy it. I am wearing a Hublot now. I have Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre watches too. In fact, I happen to be a regular customer of Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons. Incidentally the Ahmed Seddiqi family members all drive Porsches.”
As we leave he has a twinkle in his eye and his parting words remain in my mind: “If you go to any luxury hotel you will see at least three or four of our cars, either Audis or Porsches. Have you noticed – when you give your car to a valet for parking, the speed with which he takes your key is a reflection of what car you are driving.”