Automotive Industry E1:R1
◢ The acquisition of Bahman Automotive by Crouse is a major move within the trend of auto industry privatization.
◢ New interest rates are expected to boost demand from car-buyers as banks begin to offer new and more attractive financing options, including leasing.
Emerging from Sanctions
Iran’s automobile industry is one of the country’s most important industrial sectors. The vast majority of the 15 million cars on Iran’s roads were manufactured domestically.
In 2011, Iran reached a historical high in motor vehicle production, ranking 11th in the world, 5th in Asia, and 1st in the Middle East with 1.6 million cars produced. However, in recent years production has slowed, negatively impacted by economic sanctions. In 2013, production had dropped to 630,639 passenger vehicles having since recovered to 884,866 vehicles in 2015. Supply chain issues, diminished consumer demand, and chronic mismanagement exacerbated the effect of international sanctions.
The importance of the automobile industry is also tied to employment. Automotive production and related services such as sales and maintenance employs over 800,000 individuals. In 2011, the 1.6 million-car production mark was reached with a workforce of 100,000 involved directly in manufacturing.
There are two main players in Iran’s automobile industry, both state-owned. Iran Khodro Company (IKCO) is the market leader, historically controlling 50% of the domestic market share. Iran Khodro is notable for their production of the Samand and Runna models, the first Iranian cars of domestic design. However, IKCO’s commercial success depends on its role as the local partner for two global automotive giants: Daimler Benz and PSA Peugeot Citroen.
The IKCO/Peugeot joint venture is one of Iran’s most important industrial partnerships. There are more Peugeot-branded cars on Iranian roads than in any other (41% market share), making Iran one of the rare international markets dominated by French cars.
SAIPA, which is Iran’s second largest automaker, has a similar partnership with Renault, accounting for 9% of the domestic automobile production. As part of post-sanctions investments, both Peugeot and Renault have announced new agreements with their local partners covering expanded production of new models, with a focus on export potential from Iran to other regional markets.
In recent years, the dominance of French brands in Iran has been challenged by the entry of Korean and Chinese automakers. As sanctions caused supply issues and delayed the delivery of new models by IKCO and SAIPA, Chinese automakers moved aggressively in the market, carving out market share. Though Iranian consumers were initially unconvinced by the brand credentials of the Chinese players such as Cherry and BYD, the cars offered fundamentally newer designs at competitive prices when compared to the IKCO/SAIPA offers. This has enabled Chinese manufacturers to win an 8% market share, with SAIPA opening two production lines to produce cars from China’s Brilliance.
Iran’s auto industry continues to endure a persistent recession, fueled largely by diminished consumer demand.
The prices for IKCO and SAIPA models are set by the government’s Competition Council. The council has recently permitted automakers to slightly increase prices of some of their products.
Heads of the two big carmakers, SAIPA and IKCO, had confirmed that by the end of the holy Month, price of some of their products would increase. While the announcement was expected to push consumers to buy ahead of the price increase, little demand materialized. Yet, market analysts remained hopeful that demand would increase after Ramadan (typicaly a slow month), which ended on July 7th, but car dealers remain rather pessimistic.
The recession in the market can be partly attributed to customer expectations following the nuclear deal. Announcements on new agreements between Iranian and foreign automakers has many consumers waiting for the arrival of new models, such as the Renault Captur crossover, which is now on presale.
Recent Developments at IKCO
The new IKCO-Peugeot Joint Venture, known by the acronym “IKAP,” has taken effect. IKAP is one of the most important industrial partnerships marking post-sanctions economic revitalization. The joint-venture was agreed with the active support of both the French and Iranian governments and was announced as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s state visit to France in February of this year.
IKAP entails a EUR €400 million investment by PSA Peugeot Citroen to support the development of new production lines covering the latest generation of Peugeot models, uncluding the 208, 2008 and 301. This expanded and updated line-up consistent with the key models currently on sale in Europe is an answer to Chinese competition in the market. The IKAP agreement also stipulates that the partners work towards the goal of exporting 30% of cars manufactured by the partnership to regional markets.
However, just as SAIPA changed leadership in 2015 to meet the new post-sanctions market demands, there are suggestions that IKCO might also be ripe for a change in management. Current CEO Hashem Yekkeh Zare might be on his way out, with industry veteran Saeed Faeqi the rumored replacement.
One of the key considerations for any new management is IKCO’s lack of R+D and innovation capacity. Perhaps aiming to underscore his ability to take the company forward, CEO Yekkeh Zare has announced that the company is in preliminary talks with South Korea’s LG about producing electric variants of its domestically designed cars.
Recent Developments at SAIPA
SAIPA is taking a series of measures in response to consumer dissatisfaction regarding buying process and aftersales service. The company has signed a contract with Leasing Sanat Va Madan, a financing company affiliated with Bank of Industry and Mine to offer new financing options for SAIPA cars. The IRR 350 billion (USD $10 million) contract is part of a wider revitalization plan introduced by Mehdi Jamali, who joined SAIPA as Group CEO in 2015.
The unlock potential of Iran’s auto industry lies largely in exports. Despite highest production levels in the region, Iran has yet to export a significant number of cars to neighboring countries. Encouragingly, SAIPA managed to export a first shipment of cars to Lebanon where it expect to undercut other imported brands on price.
Finally, new reports that SAIPA is set to announce an agreement with PSA Peugeot Citroen—a deal rumored since April in which the French automaker would take a significant stake in the company to support a join-venture around the Citroen brand. The positive sentiment around the company made SAIPA the month’s best performing automotive stock in the Tehran Stock Exchange, with daily trade volume peaking above 400 million shares.
Moves Towards Privatization
Privatization within key industries has been a stated priority of the Iranian government for decades, but varying levels of political commitment and changing economic conditions have meant that many key industries have seen very little actual privatization. However, the lifting of international sanctions has given new impetus towards privatization, often seen as a key condition for foreign investment in strategic industries.
An encouraging sign can be seen in the acquisition of Bahman Group, a manufacturer that has historically produced Mazda vehicles in Iran, by the private company Course Automotive, Iran’s leading auto parts manufacturer. Working through subsidiary companies, Crouse acquired a 62% stake in Bahman from government holding companies including Ghadir Investment Company. The acquisition was valued at USD 460 million dollars and had led to speculation that Crouse is seeking to expand shareholdings in SAIPA as well as part of a larger strategy of vertical integration. Crouse is respected in the industry for having one of the most efficient and technologically advanced production lines in Iran. This knowhow is expected to translate into a higher standard of best practices at Bahman and perhaps the wider industry.
Impact of New Interest Rates
As Iran’s economy continues to go through its post-sanctions reorientation, the automotive industry is adapting to a new monetary environment. Recently, responding the reduced rates of inflation, Central Bank of Iran has mandated a new policy to keep the maximum interest rates for deposits to 18%, with plans to reduce the rate further to 15% in the near term. The reduced rates are likely to affect the automotive industry in a few ways.
First, the new interest rates should help drive consumer demand as the cost of capital falls. Auto loans are among the most popular loan products in Iran, but interest rates often hovered as high as 25%. The new 18% deposit interest rate is in line with the financing made available when the Rouhani administration instituted short-lived, but a highly popular National Auto Loan program in 2015. That program offered a 16-18% interest rate with a 20% deposit on a preapproved list of affordable cars, covering a maximum of 110,000 sales. The program, which reached its sales target in about a week, was instituted with capital made available by the Central Bank of Iran as a way to support the flagging auto-industry and stave layoffs. The program’s success suggests that cheaper financing should bring Iranian car buyers back into the market.
Second, the reduced interest rates will also reduce the capital cost for automakers themselves. Many automakers currently have significant interest payments related to loans secured during the sanctions period and used to manage cash flow and increasing input costs. The new lower interest rates may offer automakers the opportunity to refinance these loans to reduce the burden on company balance sheets.
Third, with such higher interest rates many Iranians hesitate to invest in the stock market. Reducing the relative appeal in savings deposits should push more capital into listed equities. Iran’s automotive companies are already among the most attractive stocks, and so demand for these shares is likely to create an upward pressure on the shares boosting the value and fundraising ability of the automakers.