Aldar to drive car sales off island

Developer looks to consolidate Abu Dhabi's scattered car industry off the island into a one-stop shop and free up city parking spaces.

ABU DHABI // Aldar Properties, the largest developer in Abu Dhabi, is moving ahead with a plan that would consolidate the capital's scattered car industry off the island into a one-stop shop for buyers from around the region, an executive says. The development could also free up thousands of parking spaces and relieve congestion in some of Abu Dhabi's busiest areas.

MotorWorld, located in Shamkah near the airport, was launched in April 2008, but was then put on hold while Aldar revised its plans after the property slowdown. Now, MotorWorld is scheduled to build the project in phases, with the first finishing by the second quarter of 2011, said Monzer al Rifai, the general manager of the project. "We spent another year and a half looking at the market and revisiting the project," said Mr al Rifai, a 30-year veteran of the car sales business. "Our plan is to create an automotive destination, but it will be a very healthy, family-friendly environment."

The cost of the project was originally announced as Dh11bn (US$2.99bn), but he said that would probably decline as the project was built over a longer period and because construction prices had gone down. The first location in Abu Dhabi to feel the effect of the new car emporium will probably be Airport Road, where there is a great density of used car businesses that use public parking spaces to display their cars.

Mr al Rifai said that most, if not all, of the roughly 90 used car businesses would move to MotorWorld in the first phase. With each business taking up as many as 40 or 50 parking spaces, this could free up 3,600 spots. Still, managers of used car companies said yesterday the costs were too high for it to make sense for them to move. Abdullah Othman, the owner of the Suqoor al Emarat car sale business, said Aldar approached him with a rental rate of Dh150,000 a year for a small space at MotorWorld.

"The price when they approached us was too expensive," he said. "Here parking is free and rent is a lot cheaper - It's unattractive to move when there's no real features or benefits or cheaper rent." Mefleh al Dabbas, the general manager of Al Omiera Cars, said a one-stop shop for cars would be good for business because there was not enough room in downtown Abu Dhabi to display cars, but he also believed prices were too high.

"They need to revise it, especially for those who sell used cars," he said. "They start from Dh150,000 for the smallest place. Some shops don't even make that in two years." Mr al Rifai said Aldar had not finalised the rental rates for MotorWorld. New car show rooms will also have a presence in MotorWorld. Al-Futtaim Automotive, an Abu Dhabi-based car retailer, signed an memorandum of understanding on Monday to open a business in MotorWorld.

Under the current plan, MotorWorld would also include middle-income housing for 36,000 people. Many of these homes would be used for employees working on Yas Island, but they would also be open to the general public in Abu Dhabi, Mr al Rifai said. The long-term plan for MotorWorld is for it to be a single-destination area for car buyers, allowing them to find a car, test it out, obtain financing and registration all in one place.

It would also incorporate other facilities, including a 3-star hotel and restaurants to "address the growing demand for a family-friendly automotive experience", Aldar said. Car businesses take up about 74 hectares of space in Abu Dhabi, said a study by Urbis for Aldar last year. Every month, there are 8,000 cars sold in the capital and more than 20,000 sold across the country, the study said. Similar projects have been built in Dubai, including the 14ha Al Aweer Used Car Complex and the Auto Mall located within the MotorCity project. Mr al Rifai said MotorWorld would be distinctive because of its calmer environment and convenient location.

"Our project is located on the cross roads between Abu Dhabi, the Northern Emirates and the GCC countries," Mr al Rifai said. "I think that this delay will really help us make a great place for families to go to buy cars." * with additional reporting by Hadeel al Sayegh