Iran's Fast, Furious, and Filthy Rich

by ALI CHENAR in Tehran
09 Sep 2011 16:53

[ dispatch ] On a typical Friday, the official day off in Iran, Asadollah Allam, a confidant of the late Shah and a former prime minister, liked to go horseback riding out of town. On his way to the stable one day, in his fancy American car, he recalled seeing "women and men on their way back from their Friday bath, a few soldiers in their ugly boots enjoying their time off, and kids playing in the dirt" -- "poverty, pure and simple," as he put it.

"I then thought of Communist countries where such scenes are common," he continued, writing in his memoirs in the late 1970s, not long before class tensions helped fuel the Iranian Revolution. "But in those countries, at least no one drives the latest luxury Cadillac through such neighborhoods," he added.

Three decades later, under a leadership that promised the masses greater social and economic equality, such ostentatious displays of disparity have become far more commonplace.

"There are more Porsches on the streets of Tehran than in many American cities," an Iranian expat said on a recent visit. There may be a grain of truth to his observation. The German automaker, which entered the Iranian market last year, reportedly sold out of its annual allocation for the country before August. And how the situation in Iran's capital compares statistically to any other major city may not be as important as the perception it creates, especially in a society whose rulers still govern in the name of the oppressed.

"I know people have the right to enjoy their money," said Hamid, a 32-year-old accountant. "But when there are many who can't afford bread and basic necessities in this city, seeing a multimillion-dollar car on the street tells you something is very wrong with our economy."

The source of wealth in Iran, and Tehran in particular, raises a lot of eyebrows. "No one knows where it comes from," says a graduate student of economics. "However, the oil price hikes have created so much revenue for the government, those billions must have ended up somewhere."
European car manufacturers have taken note. Last year, Porsche opened a dealership in Tehran's western suburbs to great fanfare. The opening ceremony, at which Iranian businessmen mingled with Porsche representatives, received substantial media coverage. The dealership covers 12,000 square meters and includes a retail shop, an exhibition hall, and on-site service facilities. According to a blogging car enthusiast, Porsche sales director Andreas Offerman, on hand for the event, declared, "Iran has been a white spot on the Porsche map for too long and we are glad that we are here after two years of deliberate planning,"

Porsche's successful entry into the Iranian market has encouraged other manufacturers to make similar plans. Roughly a year after Porsche began its operations in the Islamic Republic, an Italian business daily revealed that Maserati, Fiat's high-end brand, aims to open a dealership through a representative in Tehran next year.

Fiat is majority owner of the Chrysler Group, based in the United States, which has extensive restrictions on trade and financial transactions with Iran. "Our cars are produced entirely within Italy and we don't have any embargo," Umberto Cini, Maserati managing director for the Middle East and Africa, told The Gulf.

The carmaker's sales in the UAE appear to have played a role in its decision. Roughly a third of Maserati customers in the sheikhdom are Iranian. Still, there's more to the Maserati move. "I know that the main focus of that deal actually isn't the high-end sports cars, it's the mass-market Fiats," a well-informed source told Tehran Bureau. "Fiats will be sold through the same dealership. Maserati attracts attention, so it's a form of marketing." At the end of the day, "very few people can afford those in Tehran."

Others manufacturers are almost certain to follow Maserati. "So many companies are accessing the Iran market, and I think the war talk only emboldens them," said the source. "They want to establish themselves before any prospective regime change." Range Rover, a large luxury four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle produced by Britain's Land Rover firm, was on its way. "They were going [to Iran] last year," said the source. "Dealership land was bought, the service bay was being set up." Even at more than $100,000 each, plus an import tariff of at least 110 percent, "they had presold dozens of cars."

But they got hit up with sanctions -- retaliatory sanctions imposed by Iran itself. The Islamic Republic has a ban on goods originating from Great Britain, at least those not previously granted importation rights.

Iran's Fast, Furious, and Filthy Rich - Tehran Bureau | FRONTLINE | PBS
Er,nothing to do with the recently exposed links between the IRGC and Eastern European drug smuggling gangs?.
40% of UAE GDP originates from more or less legit dealings with Iran. There is so much trade going on that anything your heart desires is available in Iran these days. Do you know what the offical plod cars are in Iran? Very recent Mercedes Benz C- and E classes! Good on them!
8_8508220072_L600.jpg Policias-patrullando.jpg 24_8708231085_L600.jpg 4_8708240973_L600.jpg

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