“Iceland’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjavík, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown.”
So begins “Wall Street on the Tundra,” the contentious Vanity Fair article written by Michael Lewis a few months after Iceland’s 2008 crash. Contrary to the picture painted by the article, people weren’t actually blowing up their Range Rovers en masse, but they probably wished there was something they could do to get rid of their luxury jeep, if it meant that they could get rid of the attached foreign currency pegged loan, which near doubled over night.
In the wake of the crash, the Range Rover stood out as a symbol of the times, a leftover manifestation of the nation’s collective binge. Big cars are useful for taking on some of Iceland’s more rugged country roads, but they are difficult to justify in Reykjavík, especially in the city centre with its narrow streets. Nonetheless, in 2007, more Range Rovers were being imported to Iceland than to the rest of Scandinavia, which is a 100 times larger market, according to a Yale Insights interview with former Minister of Business Affairs Gylfi Magnússon in 2009. Range Rovers were a status symbol; people compared their luxury jeeps like traders in American Psycho compare their business cards.
As you can see in the accompanying graph, there was a dramatic drop in new Range Rover registrations from 259 in 2007 to 94 in 2008. The number continued to drop with 10, three and four registrations in the three following years. The trend reversed last year, however, with registrations jumping to 24, which is more than five times the number of registrations in 2011. This leads us to conclude, if our newly invented RRR Index is any kind of sign of the times, that Iceland may be getting the show back on the road.
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