What a difference a decade makes. In 2009, 1.3 million Light Vehicles were sold in Iran (followed shortly thereafter by a record result of 1.7 million in 2011). Turn to 2019, however, and the landscape had changed completely, with sales appearing to have hit rock bottom, at just 656,000 units, the worst performance for 17 years. Crippling US sanctions are the main culprit for the dramatic decline, but Iran also has numerous domestic obstacles to tackle.
The assassination of a major general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassem Soleimani, in early January has only served to prop up the nationalist agenda within the country, cementing the government’s confrontational stance towards the US. Recent elections, meanwhile, have seen hardliners make big gains. And with the Trump administration’s aggressive stance towards the country, Iran has become increasingly alienated at a global level. Is this set to change anytime soon? From a political perspective in the US, a sudden reversal of Iran’s isolation on the world stage appears unlikely. Trump’s chances of a second term in office have been increasing in recent months and our base assumption is that the US will not be extending an olive branch to Iran in the near future.
Although the sanctions alone have caused the economy and the automotive sector to contract sharply, other headwinds prevail. Domestic issues are piling up, with any attempt by the government to boost spending being subdued by spiralling inflation. More recently, coronavirus (COVID-19) has been spreading apace, the full consequences of which have yet to be determined.
With mounting challenges and no clear light at the end of the tunnel, we have cut both the near-term and longer-term projections for the Iranian market and do not anticipate any real progress being made on the 2019 result before 2024. The market still has the potential to exceed previous highs, with plenty of installed automotive production capacity and a sizeable population, though expecting anything to change significantly during the next US presidential term is optimistic, at best.
The cloudier outlook is also mirrored elsewhere in the Middle East. Excluding Iran, regional Light Vehicle sales hit 1.6 million in 2019. While this marked a slight increase from the preceding year, gone are the days of unparalleled automotive growth, spurred on by booming oil and gas revenue. The Middle Eastern market certainly still has upside potential to grow beyond levels seen before, but with a subdued global economic outlook, that growth is still some way off.