Hybrid cars are reaching the Gulf in limited numbers. But those who want to do their bit for the environment, or make a statement, will have to dig deep into their resources — the niche here is dominated by prestige, performance marques such as Porsche, Lexus, BMW and McLaren Automotive.
And for now, these companies are not particularly promoting hybrids.
“In comparison to Europe, we have less external factors influencing consumers [to buy a hybrid], such as petrol costs, tax benefits, emission standards or a well-planned charging infrastructure,” said George Wills, managing director at Porsche Middle East and Africa.
Porsche had been offering local customers hybrid drive options since 2010, starting with Cayenne S Hybrid. He added that regional buyers must still be sold on the virtues of environment-friendly drives and overcome prejudices about the life expectancy of the battery, among others.
“The BMW Group has developed ActiveHybrid cars in the 7, 5 and 3 Series but these vehicles are not proactively brought into the Middle East markets. If customers request them, then they can be ordered,” said Leanne Blanckenberg, corporate communications manager, BMW Group Middle East.
“These customers are usually aware of the environmental and technology benefits of driving a hybrid before they come to the showroom. ”
But, even without a sustained marketing campaign, there is a steady trickle of hybrids reaching our roads and parking lots. Later this year McLaren will come muscling in with its brand new P1, for example.
But why would a high-performance sportscar maker want to have anything to do with a hybrid? Mark Harrison, regional director at McLaren Automotive, explained: “One may not need a hybrid sportscar as such, but what it gives you is incredible performance and allows you to run a car with zero emissions.
Engineering-wise that has to be a good thing. “A customer always expects McLaren to be at the head of technological innovation. That’s the promise we bring to the sportscar market and at the moment hybrid is at the cutting-edge of technology that we and other sportscar makers are trying to develop.”
Point taken, but not one shared by volume manufacturers looking at the regional marketsâ¦ at least for now. For them to get interested, there has to be sufficient demand for hybrids before it becomes worth their while. One of the big volume marques has hybrid models available here, but purely for test purposes.
“Given that oil prices are so affordable, it would take a lot for hybrids or electrics to shift a few gears,” said a senior manager at a German car dealership. Al-Futtaim Motors currently sells four Lexus hybrids in the UAE. “Yes most of our hybrid customers would arrive at the showroom knowing what they want,” said a spokesperson at the dealership. “The customer profile is highly involved with the environment, yet seeks a powerful car that provides high performance.
“The price difference is not major between hybrid and standard versions; additional performance, quietness and luxury justify the premium which varies from 5 to 15 per cent depending on the model.”
In the meantime, manufacturers are waiting for interest in hybrids to grow. “We see the topic of environment-friendly drive trains gaining more importance and are confident this trend will continue in the coming years,” said Wills.