UAE car sales seen strong, says Nissan

Car maker says sales rose over 20% so far this year, expects growth to continue

New car sales in the UAE probably rose over 20 percent in the first eight months of this year and solid growth should continue thanks to a resilient economy underpinned by high oil prices, an industry executive told Reuters.

The growth rate has been flattered by the disruption to supplies last year after a devastating earthquake in Japan, said Atsuo Kosaka, managing director of Nissan Middle East.

But even excluding that, it is clear the car market in the second largest Arab economy is improving, he added.

"The UAE new car market is increasing very much in comparison with last year's car sales. This is not only for Nissan," Kosaka said at a publicity event for a new model.

Dubai-based Nissan Middle East supports the sales of Nissan Motor in over 20 countries across the region, from Libya to Azerbaijan.

The UAE does not release quarterly gross domestic product data so car sales are used by economists as one indicator of growth. But UAE car sales data are not available on an aggregate basis, making tracking the industry difficult.

Consultants IHS Automotive have forecast car sales in the UAE will grow more than 5 percent to some 282,000 this year, after an estimated 13 percent rise in 2011.

The UAE is Nissan's largest market in the region. The company has an approximate 15 percent share and sells around 37,000 cars a year in the country, Kosaka said.

But that is a small fraction of the group total. Nissan sold 1.2 million vehicles globally in the three months to June, up 15 percent.

Asked about growth prospects for the UAE car market amid a faltering global economy, Kosaka said: "I think this trend of increase will continue in the coming months.

"It's definitely coming from the favourable oil price situation and economic fundamentals are very stable right now."

A Reuters poll of analysts conducted in July forecast the UAE's economy would grow 3.2 percent this year, after 4.2 percent in 2011.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, new car sales in Lebanon have so far held in line with last year's levels despite the civil war in neighbouring Syria, where the market has almost disappeared, Kosaka said without giving details.

Increasing Nissan's small market share in Saudi Arabia, the biggest Gulf Arab car market where 606,000 cars were sold in 2011 according to IHS, is Nissan's primary business focus now, Kosaka added.

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