Maserati is the latest luxury car maker to report record showroom figures across the GCC.
Maserati sales zoom ahead in Gulf
DUBAI // Maserati is the latest luxury car maker to report record sales figures across the GCC, with sales tripling in the past two years, as demand elsewhere falters. As Maserati's distribution hub in the region, the UAE holds the lion's share, representing 40 per cent of the Italian car maker's total sales in the region. "We set up our base in the UAE in the free zone because of its strategic location for our customers," said Umberto Maria Cini, the managing director of Maserati. "As such, it is now possible for us to manage the African countries out of Dubai." The GCC represented about 5.5 per cent of global Maserati sales last year, compared with 3.5 per cent in 2006. Officials expect the region's share will climb to seven per cent by the end of this year. Mr Cini said Maserati was looking to expand its sales in the Middle East and Africa. "This, in return, will result in an increase of investments. We have also reinforced our structure in the area by opening a Maserati training centre for our staff." The Gulf has become an oasis from the global economic downturn that has seen millions of cash-strapped consumers in the West cutting back on spending, with many car makers turning to the GCC as a means to survive tougher times. Figures released by the regional car industry estimate that the combined market for cars and light lorries in the GCC will increase about 10 per cent to 1.2 million vehicles this year. Far from feeling the pinch at the pump, drivers in the Gulf enjoy subsidised petrol, with UAE prices locked at US$1.40 (Dh5.14) per US gallon (3.79 litres) compared with an average of $3.59 in the US. Japanese vehicle exports to the Middle East surged 38 per cent last year to 823,000 vehicles, up for a seventh consecutive year. Mitsubishi Motors now sells more vehicles in the region than it does in the US, the world's biggest market. Still, there is reason to believe that a backlash by the credit crunch crippling the US economy could seep into GCC-based businesses. A report by Merrill Lynch released last month said the UAE economy was likely to see a slowdown in the second half of this year as a result of a rapid expansion in credit growth, rising inflation and increased funding costs. The report forecast GDP growth of 7.2 per cent this year. Regional car industry officials also caution that while growth rates give reason for optimism, the potential for a slowdown is realistic. The rest of the western world's car manufacturers have announced major falls in sales this year. General Motors America reported losses of $8.5 billion in revenues in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, while in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America the company increased second quarter sales by $1.7bn. According to CNW Marketing Research, a US-based consultancy firm, visits to car dealerships in the last 10 days of September declined 51 per cent compared with the same period last year - the largest slide in 22 years. Maserati and Bentley were the only car makers in the US to post gains last month. In contrast, luxury brands have fared better. Lexus UAE reported a 50 per cent increase in year-on-year sales for the first half of this year, while Lexus sales in the US were down 15 per cent for the same period. Abu Dhabi Motors, which showcases brands such as BMW and Rolls-Royce, reported 36 per cent sales growth last year. Regional car industry officials, however, said that despite their continued success in the region, they did expect rapid growth rates to slow slightly in the coming years. "The construction boom, a surplus of disposable income and population increase are the key factors of strong business," said Sunil Oommen, the assistant sales and marketing manager for Honda in Dubai. "We expect the market to grow further with the increase in population, investors, public and private-sector income. However, the percentage of increase may decline compared to last year with rising rents, commodities, school fees and also the improved public transport system and the Metro," he added. firstname.lastname@example.org