Al-Futtaim Toyota believes its new financing offer in no way circumvents Central Bank lending rules, despite calls from Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) for other banks to shun such schemes.
The car dealer last month announced a financing programme that allows customers to pay for most of the mandatory 20 per cent down payment for a car over the life of a 24-month loan.
Andrew Squires, the manager for sales, planning and distribution at Al-Futtaim Motors, says that since the start of Ramadan, 40 per cent of buyers have taken advantage of the plan.
"The stance from Al-Futtaim Motors is actually very clear," he says. "We have been supportive of the Central Bank rules because there is clearly a debt issue out there." He says the company researched the rules and "genuinely believed" they had not breached them or the spirit of the regulations.
Al-Futtaim Motors deals with all major banks in the UAE and is in constant dialogue with the Central Bank, Mr Squires says. The bank introduced a mandatory 20 per cent deposit in May for vehicle purchases as well as a cap on repayments at 50 per cent of a buyer's monthly income.
The Central Bank wants to prevent UAE banks from indulging in risky unsecured lending. Such practice fuelled the credit bubble in the years leading up to the global financial downturn and left banks nursing large amounts of bad debts on their books.
Car dealerships have been introducing innovative Ramadan financing deals to try to entice spending. Many have offered deferred payments on loans or reduced interest, but Al-Futtaim Toyota is the only company to offer to lend customers most of the deposit over the life of the loan. A Toyota Corolla, for example, costs Dh999 (US$271) a month for 24 months, with a down payment of Dh999.
ADCB has said that for ethical reasons, banks should seek to avoid providing financing for car dealerships using innovative schemes that could be regarded as trying to get around the Central Bank's rules.
"It should be all other banks' policy," said Amr Al Menhali, the head of ADCB's Islamic banking division.
Al-Futtaim Toyota introduced the scheme because many consumers had been buying cars and paying for the deposit on their credit cards.
"People have been using credit cards for the deposit, and doing it at a high cost," says Mr Squires. "It would be easier for customers if the Central Bank put a lower threshold for the deposit."