For years, consumers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have become used to buying small and low-tech made-in-China commodities. But now, they are showing increasing interest in trying something bigger -- China's home-grown sedans.
Within just several years, cars with Chinese brands are quickly leaving their own marks on streets in MENA countries, from Jordan to Egypt, which had been traditionally dominated by cars from Europe, Japan and South Korea.
Like many other made-in-China goods, Chinese brand cars have a formidable edge over their competitors with lower prices and high quality.
In the Jordanian capital Amman, Ala Suleiman who had just bought a Chery sedan told Xinhua that he chose Chery because of its competitive price, soft installment payment and fuel economy.
Chery Automobile Co. Ltd., one of the biggest home-grown car makers in China, began to sell its car in Jordan about three years ago. And by now, Chery has sold more than 3,000 units in this Arab nation, said Moutaz al-Shaweish, sales manager of the franchise store set up by Chery Jordan Company Ltd.
Such sales volume was quite satisfactory given the fact that Chery, as a newcomer in the world's fiercely-competitive auto industry, was totally unknown in the Jordanian car market several years ago, said al-Shaweish.
"Actually, we were (then) facing many difficulties to convince consumers to buy our cars when they were offered for the first time in the market," al-Shaweish recalled.
But now, "we are not facing such difficulties as Chery is growing stronger and more competitive. Jordanians are willing to buy (Chery cars) for their quality and prices," he told Xinhua, adding that Chery car prices were competitive in comparison with any other brand including those from South Korea.
Eng. Mohamed al-Qalam, chairman of Chery Jordan Company Ltd., said that demand for Chinese-made cars, including Chery, was remarkably good in Jordan this year.
"Chery gave consumers freedom of movement and choice in addition to specifications which meet demands of low-income brackets," al-Qalam told Xinhua.
"We are optimistic over more sales, particularly following an agreement we had signed (with Chery Automobile Co.) to open a new factory to assemble cars with a total investment of 30 million US dollars," al-Qalam said.
The new plant, to be set up in early 2008 and to start rolling out vehicles in the year end, will meet demand in several markets including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, al-Qalam said.
In Egypt, dealer Mohamed el-Bably said Chinese-made cars have relatively lower prices, which is one of the most obvious advantages and is more acceptable for Egyptian consumers compared with world-famous brands.
"Of course, Chinese cars have very good quality in addition to lower prices," said el-Bably, who is selling Chery's QQ, a very popular model of the company's vehicles.
According to el-Bably, the price for Chery's QQ is about 50,000 Egyptian pounds (about 9,000 U.S. dollars), which is attractive for young men working in cities.
"My business is good," Bably said when asked about the sales of Chery's QQ.
Chery had already set up its own factory in Egypt last year, with an annual production capacity of 25,000 units, which can be doubled if necessary.
Du Yibo, chief representative of China's Brilliance Automobile Co. Ltd. in Egypt told Xinhua in a recent interview that nearly all types of vehicles made by Brilliance Auto have been imported into the Egyptian market since the company established its assembly line in cooperation with Bavarian Auto in Egypt in March, 2006.
"Egyptian consumers have gradually accepted Brilliance's cars as we exerted great efforts on developing the local market," said Du.
Focusing on expanding the international market, Brilliance Auto also debuted its SPLENDOR in Egypt in November this year.
Du said Chinese car companies can take the advantage of Egypt's geographic importance to promote business in the region. "Brilliance Auto is seeking further cooperation with the Egyptian side to meet the increasing need of the market," said Du.
According to statistics, about 20 Chinese auto companies have sold their vehicles in the Egyptian market since 2003 with an annual sales volume of 3,000 to 4,000 units.
As the most populous country in the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt has a great potential in the sector of car consumption.
The Egyptian economy has witnessed a driving boost in recent years, which will help lead to further development of the auto market, especially for private cars.
Egypt, linking the Middle East to Africa, also has its strategic importance due to its unique geographic location on the map of the international auto market.
Besides Egypt and Jordan, Chery had also exported cars to Syria and it is expected to set up an assembly line in Iran this year.
For markets in Maghreb states, namely Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, about 3,048 Chinese-made cars were imported during the first half of this year, three times more than that of the same period last year, according to statistics posted on the website of China's Commerce Ministry.
(Xinhua News Agency December 26, 2007)