Local dealers whet Iran's appetite for U.S. muscle cars

Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:30am EST
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By Marcus George

DUBAI (Reuters) - Snow falls heavily on the busy street. A fresh white blanket blurs the sleek lines of a Dodge Challenger - an iconic vehicle that defines the United States' love affair with muscle cars.

This is not New York, Montreal or Tokyo but Tabriz, a city in north-west Iran showcasing the latest American autos to a country where they are still largely banned.

Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran was a flourishing marketplace for U.S.-manufactured cars and trucks, but a combination of U.S. sanctions barring most trade and Iran's own restrictions have blocked sales.

Yet since last year, hundreds of the most sought-after American and European car models have appeared in Tabriz from a nearby free trade zone close to Armenia and Azerbaijan, an example of how sanctions rarely stop the flow of luxury goods.

Numerous images and videos, like the one of the snow-covered Challenger, have been posted online by dealers, owners and enthusiasts, testament to number of top-of-the-range vehicles appearing in the region.

They are also a clear sign, if one were needed, of the enormous potential market Iran offers to U.S. auto giants if an initial agreement between the Islamic Republic and world powers leads to a permanent settlement of their dispute over Tehran's nuclear program and the lifting of trade embargoes.

"We see amazing cars here now. There's huge interest because there've been no American cars in Iran for many years," said Mohammad, a sales manager working for one of around 20 businesses importing U.S. cars into Iran. "It's good business for us."

FREE ZONE TRADE   Continued...

A 2013 Ford F-150 special edition truck (R) and a GMC truck are seen outside an auto dealership in Aras free zone in northwest Iran in this handout photo made available to Reuters in December 2013. REUTERS/Sajad Roshandel/Handout