Riyadh Mo­tor Show back in gear

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

In a Saudi econ­omy where re­straint is the buzz­word, this week’s small-scale Riyadh Mo­tor Show is a sign of the times. But fol­low­ing wide­spread eco­nomic aus­ter­ity in the king­dom hit by fall­ing oil rev­enues, the fact that the event is be­ing held at all af­ter a three-year ab­sence has given hope to car re­tail­ers. Although it is usu­ally an an­nual event, the last show was in 2012. “There was not much in­ter­est from dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies to par­tic­i­pate” in the in­ter­ven­ing years, said Alaa Aboumerhi, gen­eral man­ager of mar­ket­ing for Hyundai Wal­lan, Saudi dis­trib­u­tors for the South Korean brand.

Hyundai sedans are on dis­play along­side ri­vals in­clud­ing Ja­pan’s Toy­ota, China’s Ch­ery and US brands Chevro­let and GMC at the four-day event which be­gan on Tues­day night. Euro­pean lux­ury brands are ab­sent from the show, which is tar­geted at the av­er­age buyer and takes up just one sec­tion of a Riyadh con­ven­tion cen­ter. Much of the hall is de­voted to auto ac­ces­sories. Saudi me­dia de­scribed the ex­hi­bi­tion space as sev­eral times smaller than at the pre­vi­ous show.

Re­tail­ers in the king­dom in gen­eral are com­plain­ing of lower sales and res­i­dents say they have less money to spend. On top of hikes in the prices of petrol, elec­tric­ity and wa­ter over the past year, the cab­i­net in Septem­ber im­posed a wage freeze on civil ser­vants, who make up the bulk of the work­force. Among sav­ing mea­sures at the high­est lev­els, top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials will no longer be given cars.

Eco­nomic cut­backs will be ac­com­pa­nied by a drop in au­to­mo­bile sales this year, Aboumerhi said. “As for Hyundai, we are still main­tain­ing our mar­ket share”, with sales of about 50,000 units per year which places it sec­ond in the Saudi mar­ket, he said. The mo­tor show, which the Arab News daily said drew an es­ti­mated 10,000 vis­i­tors on the open­ing day, is a chance for deal­ers to show off their lat­est mod­els and to even take or­ders.

On­site bankers are ready to help with fi­nanc­ing. “The econ­omy, it’s not re­ally good,” said Hassan Ab­du­laziz, man­ning the Toy­ota dis­play which in­cluded a Hilux diesel pickup truck that sells for 104,000 riyals ($27,733). Around him, Saudi men in tra­di­tional white thobes lifted bon­nets and sat in the driver’s seats.

Mar­ket­ing stu­dent Waleed Mubarak sounded op­ti­mistic about the king­dom’s prospects as he looked for a new car with a bud­get of 150,000 riyals. “There’s no prob­lem with the econ­omy now in Saudi Ara­bia,” he said. An­other vis­i­tor, Ab­dul­lah Ba­jabar, wasn’t so sure. Hav­ing just re­turned from sev­eral years in Canada, he said he needs a car even though “the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion is dif­fi­cult”.

Other vis­i­tors seemed more in­ter­ested in film­ing them­selves and the ve­hi­cles, which in­cluded mon­ster trucks and a yel­low sports car slung so low it seemed to touch the floor. A young Saudi man in Western clothes preened in a con­vert­ible while tak­ing a selfie. Across the aisle, a DJ spun hip hop tunes be­side a dis­play of col­ored wheel rims and a vin­tage Chevro­let.

Even though the con­ser­va­tive king­dom is the world’s only coun­try where women can­not drive, vis­i­tors in­cluded a few women dressed in tra­di­tional black abaya robes. There were no scant­ily clad fe­males help­ing to pro­mote the cars, as oc­curs in many coun­tries. A lux­ury car show in Saudi Ara­bia’s slightly more lib­eral Red Sea city of Jed­dah was re­port­edly sanc­tioned af­ter it used fe­male sales pro­mot­ers.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ported last month that pic­tures on so­cial me­dia showed young Saudi women pos­ing in long white robes with their faces un­cov­ered in front of a car dis­play. Jed­dah will next month host the an­nual Saudi In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show, the king­dom’s largest. Or­ga­niz­ers of that event say Saudi Ara­bia is the Mid­dle East’s big­gest im­porter of ve­hi­cles and auto parts.

A car re­mains es­sen­tial for get­ting around Saudi cities criss­crossed by multi-lane high­ways, where pub­lic tran­sit pro­jects are un­der de­vel­op­ment but not yet fin­ished. For Hyundai’s Aboumerhi, Saudi Ara­bia’s in­ten­si­fied ef­fort to di­ver­sify its oil-de­pen­dent econ­omy should lead to an im­prove­ment next year. “By the end of this year there will be a lot of changes, pos­i­tive changes, which will re­flect for sure on the au­to­mo­tive sec­tor,” Aboumerhi said. — AFP


RIYADH: Saudi women look at a lux­ury sports car dur­ing the 30th In­ter­na­tional Riyadh Mo­tor Show on Tues­day.

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