Moscow: Minivans for Minigarchs

Instead of leaving the office early, elite Muscovites are taking their offices on the road.


You could say that Moscow is crippled by bad traffic, but that wouldn’t capture the scale of the problem. Traffic jams routinely last four or five hours. Twenty percent of the city’s residents spend at least three hours a day in gridlock. Viktor Osipkov, the author of a blog about traffic in Moscow, recently told a Russian newspaper that the drive home on Friday has grown so bad that he and his family “leave work on Thursday and return on Saturday.”

Facing the world’s worst bottlenecks, some Muscovites are trying another workaround. Instead of leaving the office early, they are taking their offices on the road, in a new breed of minibus whose interior looks like a boat cabin crossed with a boardroom. In these vehicles, they can hold meetings and join videoconferences while moving slowly—very slowly—across the city.

Brabus, a German company that specializes in aftermarket improvements to luxury vehicles (increasing the horsepower on your Maybach, say), started offering “business conversions” of vans and minibuses several years ago, having sensed a sales opportunity. “The traffic in all capitals of the world is increasing,” says Sven Gramm, the head of public relations and advertising at Brabus. “People could use the time to work.”

The company’s newest luxury mobile office debuted at the Moscow International Motor Show in August. The Business Lounge, as it’s known, is a souped-up Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, complete with wood flooring, four facing (and fully reclinable) leather seats, a 42-inch LCD screen, a refrigerator, a coffeemaker, a ceiling display consisting of 2,700 color LED lights (intended, apparently, to replicate the night sky and a variety of other vistas), and a built-in PlayStation 4. The overall effect is as if CNBC had bought the rights to MTV’s Pimp My Ride.

Brabus Business Lounges aren’t cheap: prices range from about $300,000 to about $600,000, depending on the extent of customization. But don’t jump to any hasty conclusions about who’s buying them. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Moscow’s oligarchs aren’t the main ones working out of these roving offices. According to an executive at one Russian conglomerate, it’s largely the “minigarchs”—the heads of procurement for oil corporations, oligarchs’ deputies, and so on—who are buying the vans. “The big guys aren’t riding around Moscow,” he told me. “They are sitting in plush chairs in mansions and on yachts. People come to them. The oligarchs have bypassed Moscow traffic by no longer moving around.”