x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

High-octane sales for leading car brands

Choice of vehicle is an important lifestyle statement in the UAE, and while there are plenty of flashy motors around, there is also no shortage of more modest yet dependable models.

A Rolls-Royce Wraith automobile at the Geneva Motor Show last year. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
A Rolls-Royce Wraith automobile at the Geneva Motor Show last year. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Car sales last year highlight the diverse nature of the population in this country. While the top-end marques have shown huge growth in sales, the more affordable, saloon and smaller-engine segment has shown equal if not better growth.

One only has to stand at any roadside here to see the UAE likes its wheels – perhaps not surprising given the car culture we live in. Increased services on shiny new buses and the highly visible Dubai Metro may reveal the country’s investment in public transport, but results from the world’s car marques have set new UAE records and show the public’s love of the automobile is growing with the spread of the road network.

Rolls-Royce may still be one of the world’s most exclusive brands but here that on its own does not quite cut it. Every single Rolls-Royce delivered last year in the UAE was bespoke: that is tailored to the specific, individual requirements of the buyer. The British aristocrat showed a 17 per cent growth rate in the Middle East last year over 2012, the highest for the marque in the world for the second year running, with a whopping 45 per cent growth for the top-of-the range Phantom series.

“Again this year, Rolls-Royce has confirmed its position as undisputed leader in the super-luxury segment,” says Geoff Briscoe, the regional director for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

“No one sells more cars above the Dh1 million mark in the region.”

Porsche had another record year in the region with a 26 per cent rise in sales. Almost 60 per cent of its sales in the region were provided by its 4x4 Cayenne range, and new to our shores in April will be the Porsche Macan, a smaller 4x4 starting at about Dh250,000, which Porsche regards as an entry level price for the brand. Another new Porsche coming this year will be the Porsche Panamera Executive, which will be 15cm longer than the standard Panamera and one can expect a longer price tag.

Staying with premium German car makers, Audi also posted a record 16.3 per cent jump in UAE sales last year over 2012 and the company expects sustainable growth in this country’s car market.

“The UAE is an important market but the numbers are still small. It is not a China or Japan, and Audi has just become the No 1 premium brand in the UK,” says Trevor Hill, the managing director of Audi Volkswagen Middle East.

“The Middle East is important for the top-end models where we sell big, top-end A8s and A6s. Last year we launched the RS7 and RS6, some really high-performance models, and they have been snapped up. It is not massive growth but big, sustainable growth.”

Top-end may be important in the UAE. However, it is at the affordable end of the market, where Audi hopes to make a major dent in the market through this year.

“We are bringing the A3 sedan, which will give us significant growth in 2014,” says Mr Hill. “They are arriving in the country as we speak. It is a totally new car priced about Dh100,000, it’s an attractive price for a premium marque. So we have a brand-new car in the model line-up and we also have a product improvement on the A8, which shows where the growth will come from.”

The more affordable end of the market has certainly become an orchard of low-hanging fruit for car makers that know the sector. The Ford Taurus posted a 60 per cent growth in sales across the region last year and topped the saloon segment, according to the Middle East Automotive Council report. In the UAE, sales of the Ford Focus jumped 41 per cent and the Ford Escape, the mid-size 4x4, recorded 37 per cent growth, while sales of Ford Edge grew by 24 per cent, securing top spot in the crossover segment. The larger Ford Flex sold 75 per cent more in the Middle East markets last year compared with 2012.

The UAE is a melting pot of cultures and characters but as its booming car market shows, we all love a new set of wheels.

ascott@thenational.ae