Bespoke Bufori under sales siege
HIGH DEMAND FOR LUXURY: Luxury carmaker Bufori is in high demand, even though other companies struggle under economic pressure. Pictured above is the Bufori Geneva, which takes 9000 man hours to make.
KUALA LUMPUR - The global economic doldrums may have weighed on businesses around the world, but in Malaysia a luxury hand-crafted automaker struggles to keep up with demand as orders pour in from China and the Middle East.
Some customers are willing to wait nearly two years for their Bufori, which costs anywhere from an equivalent of about R1.3million- R3million and can contain unique touches at the buyer's request, ranging from built-in vaults to pearl-studded interiors.
One such customer is eHong Tan, a Malaysian green technology entrepreneur and tea connoisseur, who asked for her Bufori to be fitted with tea-making and aromatherapy features.
Tan said: "I love drinking Chinese tea. The car allows me to make tea and drink it while I'm travelling.”
Bufori's founder and managing director, Gerry Khouri, said he first started the company in his native Australia in 1987, but decided to move to Malaysia in the early 1990s when demand from the region began to jump.
Khouri said: “There's a lot of promise here - that's what brought us to Malaysia and kept us here."
In the past three years, orders for his Buforis, which he says is the only fully handmade car produced in Asia, have steadily risen 15-20% each year.
"China and the Middle East are probably our two biggest markets right now,” he said.
The country hosts Bufori's only plant where customers can visit to see their cars being made. Showrooms are found in Sydney and Shanghai.
WATCH IT BEING MADE
Tan, excited about the prospect of watching her car being made, said: "The beautiful thing is I get to see it built from the beginning to end, like watching a baby growing up.”
Khouri, who built his first car in his backyard at 21, says that while the Bufori kept its trademark classic designs, the cars' performance itself is "in a class of its own".
The Geneva, a four-door luxury limousine with elegant curves and a long running board, is powered by a 6.4-litre V8 engine boasting up to 350kW and 630Nm of torque.
"These are exclusive, very elite. You've got to be very special to own one of these cars," Khouri said.
But Khouri admits that the long waiting list can push some customers to competitors such as Bentley and Rolls Royce.
"These cars are made by hand. No machines - look around you, it's just people," he says, gesturing around the factory in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur where workers are busy fitting custom-made parts and molding the Bufori's body.
Upstairs, in the upholstery and interior section, leather is cut and stitched by hand while engineers put together electronic controls.
"You can't speed up people like a machine," he added.
With around a hundred workers, the factory makes only 60 cars worldwide per annum - a fraction of its 300 target, with the limited workforce and the long hours it takes to complete a car dragging down production.
"Our problem is our demand exceeds our capacity. We're not in the situation where we can produce enough vehicles to meet the demand worldwide," Khouri said.
"It sounds like a crazy problem to have - but it's serious because we are losing sales everyday."
Khouri wants to set up more factories to speed up production but is wary, wanting to preserve the quality.
"Bufori cars are very labour-intensive and dependent on people. We might compromise the quality which is something we don't want to do.”
The Bufori La Joya coupe takes 3500 man hours to complete while the Geneva sedan needs 9000 man hours.
"That's ridiculous in the overall scheme of things. If you look at a mass producer carmaker, even 50 man hours is taking too much.”
But customers who chose to be patient have no regrets.
"It is worth the wait," said Tan, whose car took 20 months to finish. "It's more than a car. To me, the Bufori is an art."