Chinese car maker Hawtai aims to build a name in the Emirates

Nathan Yang is determined to make Hawtai a name in the Emirates.

Nathan Yang is determined to make Hawtai a name in the Emirates. A manager in the international sales department of the Beijing car maker, Mr Yang hopes his company will show its vehicles in the UAE for the first time at December's Abu Dhabi International Motor Show. "It will announce to the customers that Hawtai's products are coming," he says. The company would like to sell between 500 and 1,000 cars in its first year in the Emirates. Hawtai thinks its B11 saloon will be a credible alternative to the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the top mid-size saloons in the UAE.
The Gulf, with its low taxes, offers a "very good" business environment for car exports, Mr Yang says. "It's a big opportunity for us if we establish a company in the UAE, especially in Dubai," he says. "It's a big auto market itself, and from Dubai you can resell products to the other Gulf countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and to the north African countries. The UAE is very important for Chinese auto makers."
Several Chinese car companies, including Chery and Great Wall, have sold cars in the Emirates, although Chinese vehicles remain comparatively rare. That could change as more manufacturers get on board. Victor Young, a spokesman for Geely, says the company, which recently bought the Swedish brand Volvo, sells vehicles in Egypt but has little presence in the Gulf. Geely sees these countries as potential markets, he says. "We have appealing cars in several segments."
But Ben Simpfendorfer, the chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland, says Chinese car makers are not yet achieving high quality. "It will take them time, at least another decade. They're more likely to capture low-cost [buyers] in Egypt or Syria," he says. While Chinese vehicle manufacturers face hurdles, their counterparts in other industries have already made inroads, helping to increase Chinese exports to the UAE to Dh46.3 billion (US$12.6bn) in 2007, even if much was re-exported to markets such as Iran.
Telecommunications has been a key sector for Chinese exports. For example, the Chinese telecoms giant ZTE signed a contract in October 2008 to manufacture mobile phones for Etisalat, with the handsets having the branding of the UAE company. Also, two years ago, Etisalat chose Huawei Technologies to build a high-speed communications network in the UAE. Huawei also makes wireless mobile broadband modems for Etisalat.