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French Version


Lebanon car sales surge after dismal 2006

Car sales in Lebanon in 2007 rose 23.3 percent over the 2006 tally, although the 2006 figures were distorted by the absence of sales caused by the summer 2006 war with Israel, figures released by the Automobile Importers Association say.

While consumer spending and many other sectors of the economy slumped in 2007 amid the enduring political crisis and security tremors in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and elsewhere, the rise in car sales demonstrates a continuing demand for cars regardless of Lebanon's instability, dealers told The Daily Star on Thursday.

The total of 18,687 was dominated by traditionally lower-priced Japanese vehicles, which comprised 47 percent of new car sales, according to the figures. South Korean cars accounted for 17 percent of all sales, and the two countries registered the largest year-on-year increases, with Japanese car sales up 39 percent and South Korean vehicles up 33 percent.

Japan's Nissan, South Korea's Kia and Japan's Toyota were the top sellers, with respective market shares of 18.6 percent, 12.8 percent and 12.6 percent.

At Toyota dealer BUMC, chief operating officer Pierre Boustany attributed the jump in sales of Japanese cars to the climbing value of the euro, which he said discouraged buyers from purchasing European cars.

Cost - more than political or security concerns - still largely determined sales, as Lebanese maintained enough confidence to purchase new vehicles in the turbulent situation, he added.

"They are still confident to buy cars," Boustany said, adding that the biggest deterrent to sales were the traditional dealers' laments of high registration fees, the value-added tax and customs duties.

Record highs for the euro held back some buyers from luxury brands such as BMW, but BMW dealership Bassoul Heneine still managed to log increases in the number of cars sold and annual revenues, said Bassoul Heneine sales manager Ziad Richa.

Richa attributed the sales figures - roughly the same as those in 2005 - to the company's stable client base, 70 percent of which is composed of expatriates and well established business, he said.

The robust euro did not dissuade these customers, who helped the pricey BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle account for about a third of sales, he added. The shaky political and security climate will only drive customers to postpone - not abandon - a car purchase, he said.

Like many sectors of the economy, the market for sales of new cars peaked in 2004, with sales of 19,105 vehicles, according to the importers' numbers.

Beirut 01-02-2008
Redaction
The Daily Star



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