The automotive sector is the second largest industry after oil and gas and with a turnover of about $12 billion, it plays an important role within Iran’s economy, making up for 10 percent of the country’s GDP and 4 percent of its workforce.
Moreover, it supports about 60 other industries, such as glassmaking, aluminum, copper, steel, rubber, textiles and paint.
When the Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran in August 2018, it reserved Washington’s first hammer blow for the car industry to hurt as many Iranians as possible.
US officials have pledged to “squeeze” Iran in the hope that it would spawn resentment. While the policy has failed, car prices have become prohibitively high.
“It is clear and obvious that the US is purposefully putting pressure on the people of Iran to instigate discontent,” said Mohammad Reza Najafimanesh, the head of the Iranian Specialized Manufacturers of Auto Parts Association.
Because of the sanctions, foreign companies that made cars in Iran — including France’s Peugeot and Renault— decided to leave, leading to delays in car deliveries and a shortage of parts and triggering a steep rise in car prices.
Nevertheless, what troubles most is that thousands of jobs in the auto sector and related industries are on the line.
More than 100,000 people are employed by the two largest local manufacturers Iran Khodro and SAIPA, while another 700,000 Iranians work in industries related to car manufacturing.
There are around 13 public and private auto manufacturers in Iran, with IKCO and SAIPA accounting for about 94% of the domestic production
Union leaders have warned that up to 450,000 jobs in the auto parts industry are at risk from the sanctions, prompting the defense ministry to wade into the quandary.
“The enemy in the economic war is after damaging public contentment and the auto industry is one of the front lines in the war,” Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani has said.
Last week, one automotive executive announced that the defense ministry had agreed to build over the next six months the hi-tech auto parts which Iran used to import.
Cars produced in Iran under license from foreign manufacturers rely on critical imports of parts ranging from airbags, pistons and cylinder heads to computer chips including engine control units and sensors.
According to official statistics, as many as 160,000 cars have been gathering dust at the warehouses of Iran Khodro and Saipa, mostly because they cannot import parts. Unofficial reports have put this number at 300,000.
“Various problems, including those related to banking and money transfers, have caused foreign manufacturers not to be able to supply the required parts,” Alireza Badkoobeh, a member of the Saipa board of directors, said.
“It has been decided that over the next six months, we locally produce the required parts in cooperation with the defense ministry and reduce dependencies to the minimum,” he added.
Iran Khodro has announced a similar partnership plan with the defense ministry to produce car parts.
One significant fact about the auto industry is its role in laying the groundwork for pioneering projects in Iran, such as space and nuclear energy programs.
The new partnership could set the stage for the introduction of new technological know-how on which the country puts a high premium. It could also lead to tie-ups in other sectors, including Iran’s sprawling oil and gas industry which has always been on the receiving end of Western sanctions.
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