x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Auto market moves into top gear as saloon enters the fray

Record results for all the familiar names but a definite shift in preference to more compact models.

The new Range Rover Sport. Dominic Romney / AP Images for Land Rover
The new Range Rover Sport. Dominic Romney / AP Images for Land Rover

Record results and a shift in preference to more compact models

The car market in this country has shown a remarkable ebullience over the past year.

While the rest of the world is slowly returning to a semblance of normality, the UAE’s car-buying public has put the pedal to the metal and sales have accelerated – and that is no mere metaphor.

Volkswagen, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Audi, Ford, Rolls-Royce and Porsche have all posted record results over the past couple of weeks.

And this year is shaping up to be even more spectacular. The Rolls-Royce Abu Dhabi dealership sold out of its yearly consignment of 120 new Wraith models in the first week of January.

Last year, sales of the Mercedes Gull-wing SLS rose 160 per cent on 2012 and each new set of figures underlines what a startling year it was for car dealerships across the country.

Being a petro-economy, one expects the high-end marques to do well here and they have – but there has also been a huge swell in the saloon market. Traditionally 4x4s have been both the local and expat ride of choice, but now it would seem the saloons are making their presence felt on the UAE’s roads more than ever.

Volkswagen signalled the country’s shift in desire with its announcement it had sold 51 per cent more of its Passat model in July, making it the most successful sales month ever for the German car maker. Its 4x4, the VW Toureg, is still popular but, in terms of sales growth, the Passat beat it hands down.

Ford’s Explorer model led the region’s race as most popular 4x4 with a 37 per cent sales boost last year but, again, the 4x4 was outstripped by a saloon, the Ford Focus registering a 41 per cent growth in sales. The Focus’s rocketing sales were put down to its ubiquity rather than changing tastes in the country.

“Ford Focus is the No 1 nameplate globally,” says Thierry Sabbagh, Ford Middle East’s director of sales. “Two things have contributed to the 41 per cent growth in the UAE: one is the aggressive marketing of the model and the variety of the focus range and attractive price point; secondly the UAE has a lot of expats and the Focus name is well known across Europe and North America. Therefore the car does not really need selling.

“The growth is historically from the Explorer and Expedition, our SUV lines, and they are still growing but the sedans are doing far better than they used to.”

The 25 per cent rise in sales of the new Range Rover Sport; the 19 per cent rise in sales of the Porsche Cayenne, which made up almost 60 per cent of the German car maker’s total sales for last year; and the 58 per cent rise in Nissan Patrol sales emphasise that the country’s love of the 4x4 is alive and well.

But with the investment in road infrastructure, the increase in traffic and the lack of parking opportunities maybe the saloon is becoming a smarter bet for the UAE.