Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - Page 14 News List

‘Made in Iran’ cars face boycott campaign at home

AFP, TEHRAN

A campaign to boycott “substandard and expensive” Iranian-made cars has fired up social media in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where its supporters have been accused of anti-revolutionary treason.

Iranians are turning to the Internet to vent long-simmering dissatisfaction with a domestic car industry dominated by producers Iran Khodro Industrial Group and Saipa Corp, following years of sanctions that led to the exit of foreign makers.

Almost 20,000 people die on Iran’s roads each year, and police say faulty cars are partly to blame.

Although domestic vehicles have features such as airbags and anti-lock brakes, “the safety of these cars is not satisfactory,” deputy police chief Eskandar Momeni said.

Iranian officials say that domestically produced cars are much cheaper than imported brands and that the industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“Creating and supporting campaigns not to buy cars is treason to the national interests,” Iranian Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh said.

“This campaign is wrong, sinful and anti-revolutionary, and it would inflict damage on the domestic economy,” he added, in remarks that sparked an online backlash.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani even waded into the row to urge his minister to “treat the critics respectfully.”

Public pressure made Saipa Corp chief executive officer Mehdi Jamali apologize to the public on television “for the low quality of our products in the past.”

Most Iranian cars are based on foreign models, which used to be brought in and assembled before sanctions were introduced.

Saipa’s Pride model, originally a Kia Motors Corp vehicle, is the cheapest Iranian car with a price tag of 200 million rials (US$6,676) — about 22 times the monthly minimum wage.

Iran’s car production stood at 1.65 million vehicles in 2011, but after European and US sanctions hit there was a dramatic drop, to about 740,000 in 2013. Production rose to 1.2 million last year.

Almost all foreign automakers have left the nation. French automaker Renault SA continues to import parts and assemble cars in Tehran, but at a fraction of its former output.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Volkswagen AG, Mercedes-Benz and PSA Peugeot Citroen are among those now interested in gaining a foothold in Iran as sanctions are rolled back under a historic nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers.

Iranian manufacturers hope that the return of foreign partners would help them to increase production and improve quality.

Customs duties of up to 100 percent for vehicle imports ensure that quality foreign cars are out of reach for most Iranians.

Sales of imported Chinese vehicles are rising, helped by price cuts after a July 14 nuclear agreement in Vienna, but even they are still much more expensive than the average Iran-made car.

Automaking is Iran’s No. 2 industry after oil, accounting for up to 3 percent of GDP and 12 percent of jobs.

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