A jovial auto enthusiast

I didn’t realize the fact that owning a private car in Beijing is as difficult for a foreigner as for a local Chinese, until I met Lokesh Viswanatham in a Costa Cafe near the new International Exhibition Center in Shunyi district of Beijing.

Lokesh Viswanatham.  Photo: Courtesy of Viswanatham

Viswanatham, a 32-year-old Indian man working in Beijing, is planning to get a driving license soon and then to purchase a car. “Because I travel to India quite often, I don’t have time to study for the driving license test. It’s a challenge to get a license,” Viswanatham said.

“There are three steps to owning a car here. First, you need to get a driving license, so you have to read a lot of materials and pass the exam. The second step is applying for a car license plate. And the third is the actual purchase of the car,” he said. Obviously, Viswanatham has acquired considerable knowledge about the whole process. “I think I will be able to buy a car by the end of the year, hopefully,” he noted.

Well, hopefully, if he could get the plate in time. But the bitter reality is that it can still take a long time before one can get behind the wheels of one’s own car even after getting the driving license, whether the applicant is a qualified local Chinese or a foreigner. From January 2011, Beijing started to ration car license plates by using a lottery system to curb traffic jams. And the success rate for this August is expected to be lower than one in 50. “Just like buying real lottery tickets,” Viswanatham said.

Viswanatham is responsible for market research for an R&D team of a multinational corporation located in Shunyi. He holds a master’s degree in material science and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, one of the most renowned engineering schools in India. Viswanatham travels a lot for work but one advantage of it is that, under the company’s policy, he can always enjoy a day off to visit his family when he is in India on business. Barring an unexpected event, he will live in China for five years to fulfill his work assignment.

An auto enthusiast

“Back home (in India), I have a car and a bike. I love driving. I’m very passionate about reading about automobiles and analyzing them,” Viswanatham said gleefully when talking about his love for automobiles.

“Since there are different brands in the market, I do a bit of consulting as well. For example, when my family members or friends want to buy a car or a bike, I provide them with the right information and recommend the type of vehicle that suits their budget, needs and aspirations. In the end, they are able to buy the right vehicle, which brings immense happiness to me.”

“Anything that moves on wheels fascinates me, like cars and bikes,” Viswanatham continued, “Even here I keep reading about automobiles to see what’s going on in India.”

“Here (in Beijing), it’s awesome. You can see the best of the brands that people drive like crazy,” he said.

“I’m driven by the fascination for the technology, like how the brands are built,” he said. “I read about the brands, their life cycle, how vehicle assembly progresses from point A to point B. It’s not just a means of commuting; it’s the act of speeding the car while enjoying the comfort of its interior is what I actually look at. It’s not just the four-wheel vehicle with an engine inside, it’s the soul of the vehicle which excites me.”

“Then why didn’t you find a job in the auto sector?” I asked jokingly.

Viswanatham laughed and thought it was a difficult question. “Let me put it this way,” he said, “If I’m a freelancer, I can love any car in the world. If I work for a company, I can only love that one particular brand.”

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