Imports Still Causing a Storm on Saudi Arabia’s Roads

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become one of the world’s leading automobile importers according to a report published by the state’s Central Statistics Department (CSD) and published in the popular Al-Madinah newspaper. The latest figures show that nearly one million vehicles were imported into Saudi Arabia during the whole of 2012. This is a 33% percent increase up from the 737,000 imports that took place in the course of 2011. The number of imports during 2013 is expected to show another rise but no official figures for the whole year are available at the time of writing. The 982,000 vehicles exported to the country during 2012 represent a total value of 76.6 billion Saudi riyals. That’s 42% more than in the previous calendar year.

Up until 2011, Japan had been the most successful exporter of cars to Saudi Arabia. This charge was led by models such as the Nissan Murano. However, in 2011 the US became the country’s largest importer and this was also the case in 2012. In fact, in 2012 Japan was relegated to third place in the list with South Korea achieving second spot. During 2012, Chrysler sales jumped by 80% within the state and in 2011 Ford sales were up 60%.

The CSD states that Saudi Arabia imported around 215,000 vehicles from the United States in 2012, equating to a spend of just over 20 billion Saudi riyals. Behind Saudi Arabia in hot pursuit was South Korea, with approximately 207,000 cars exported to the Arab state during 2012.

Interim figures published by SAMA (the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency), and quoted by the CSD, show that vehicle imports financed by local retail banks throughout the first six months of 2013 were up by 32% compared to the first 6 months of 2012 (28.16 billion Saudi riyal compared to 21.31 in 2012). If that trend is found to have continued throughout the year then total car imports into Saudi Arabia in 2013 may well have topped the 100 billion Saudi riyal mark for the first time.

One should note, however, that the importation of cars into Saudi Arabia is fairly heavily regulated by the Saudi government. Since 2009 it has been illegal to import a used vehicle that is more than 5 years old. Similarly, heavy commercial vehicles older than 10 years are also forbidden. In 2000 the Saudi Arabian Customs Department also banned the importing of any vehicle fitted with Firestone tires due to safety concerns following a series of incidents in the US and Europe. All of this may affect imports to Saudi Arabia. Depending on whom your competitor is, this can be for better or for worse.

Rugal has spent most of his life in, around and under cars, from a childhood filled with Matchbox cars to bloodied knuckles as an ASE-certified mechanic and, since 2006, as an automotive journalist.