Saudi Arabia’s automotive market surges amid shifting consumer preferences

The Kingdom imported 93,300 cars in 2023, marking a significant increase from the previous year’s 66,900. This surge brings the total number of cars imported in 2022 and 2023 to 160,000. (SPA)
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Updated 11 June 2024

Saudi Arabia’s automotive market surges amid shifting consumer preferences

  • Saudi consumer preferences for new vehicles are increasingly aligned with those in Western markets

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s automotive market surges ahead, dominating over half of the Gulf Cooperation Council car sales and claiming a spot among the top 20 global markets.

The Kingdom imported 93,300 cars in 2023, marking a significant increase from the previous year’s 66,900, as revealed by Hamoud Al-Harbi, spokesperson for the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority. This surge brings the total number of cars imported in 2022 and 2023 to 160,000, with major contributors including Japan, India, South Korea, the US, and Thailand.

Despite the positive figures, lingering questions persist: What exactly are the vehicle preferences of consumers in the Kingdom, and what factors influence these preferences? Moreover, what considerations guide buyers when making a purchase decision?

Additionally, what roles do the National Academy of Vehicles and Cars and the Automotive Manufacturers Association play in alignment with Vision 2030?

Driven by preference

Saudi consumers’ vehicle preferences reflect a nuanced interplay between practicality and lifestyle aspirations.

Aly Hefny, show manager at Automechanika Riyadh, a regional trade event for the automotive aftermarket industry underscores a demand for robust vehicles tailored to navigate the nation’s varied terrain and climatic conditions.

“Saudi consumers prioritize comfort, reliability, and status in their vehicle choices, while also incorporating considerations for environmental impact and technological advancement,” Hefny told Arab News.

He further notes the evolving mindset reflected in the growing interest in environmentally conscious options and technological innovations, such as electric and hybrid vehicles.

Furthermore, Karim Henain, partner at Bain & Co., notes that Saudi consumer preferences for new vehicles are increasingly aligned with those in Western markets. There is a growing demand for advanced connectivity, infotainment systems, and driving assistance technologies such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, autonomous parking, and 360-degree cameras, driven by the country’s tech-savvy youth. 

There is a growing demand for advanced connectivity, infotainment systems, and driving assistance technologies. (Supplied)

Moreover, according to Matthias Ziegler, managing director of Volkswagen Middle East, consumer preferences in the Kingdom present a distinct perspective compared to other markets.

“While sedans remain present, a clear trend toward SUVs is evident, particularly for larger 7-seater models that align with the strong emphasis on family transportation within the region,” Ziegler told Arab News.

Within Volkswagen, Ziegler revealed that their top-selling models in Saudi Arabia are the Teramont and T-Roc, “both recognized for their comfortable driving experience, spacious interiors, and comprehensive feature sets.”

The managing director highlighted how these attributes resonate strongly with Saudi car buyers, who increasingly prioritize practicality and comfort for extended journeys and family outings.

“The upcoming all-new Tiguan is also expected to perform well in the market due to its continued focus on these core strengths,” Ziegler asserted.

He noted the growing interest in fuel efficiency as petrol prices fluctuate.

“While not currently the primary decision factor, cost of ownership is an aspect we are actively considering in the development of future offerings for the Saudi market,” he explained.

According to Sami Malkawi, managing director of sales at Ford Middle East, customers in the Kingdom have a refined taste when selecting their next vehicle. While luxury sedans, such as the Ford Taurus, have long been popular, there is a noticeable increase in the popularity of small SUVs.

“Brands have responded to the growth in interest in this kind of SUV, which offers practicality, power, interior space, and ease of handling in a smaller package – and buyers are spoilt for choice. In fact, there are currently more than 40 types of small SUVs available in this market,” Malkawi disclosed.

The managing director highlighted that the company recognized the demand and launched the Ford Territory in the region in November 2022.

“Just over a year later, Territory was the Kingdom’s top-selling small SUV and Ford became the fastest-growing brand in the Kingdom. We’re proud to see it come out on top in such a competitive category, which holds the interest of so many consumers and auto brands.”

Navigating purchase factors

A Bain & Co. survey reveals a pronounced focus on running costs, with fuel and maintenance overshadowing other considerations, particularly among the younger demographic. This aligns with global trends, where operational affordability is crucial.

“Interestingly, dealership service quality, highly valued in other markets, ranks lower among Saudi buyers, possibly reflecting different expectations or experiences with after-sales services,” Henain explained. 

The cost of ownership is an aspect we are actively considering in the development of future offerings for the Saudi market.

Matthias Ziegler, managing director of Volkswagen Middle East

For electric vehicle enthusiasts, charging infrastructure emerges as the linchpin, eclipsing concerns over driving range and speed, underscoring the imperative for robust charging networks.

“Our survey further reveals distinct vehicle preferences across age groups; SUVs are preferred by Saudis aged 35 to 65 for their versatility and capacity, while sedans are favored by the 25 to 34 age group for practicality and economy,” he said. Henain added that convertibles, coupes, and hatchbacks are more popular among female Saudis.

Steering industry vision

The National Automotive and Vehicles Academy and the Automotive Manufacturers Association emerge as linchpins in the Kingdom’s automotive narrative. NAVA’s mandate of nurturing skilled talent aligns seamlessly with Vision 2030’s emphasis on human capital, while the AMA advocates for regulatory coherence and industry growth.

Ziegler stresses the pivotal role of collaboration between industry stakeholders and government institutions, propelling Saudi Arabia toward a future of mobility underscored by efficiency and environmental stewardship.

“The NAVA’s focus on nurturing skilled talent aligns perfectly with the industry’s need for a strong future workforce capable of driving innovation, aligning with Vision 2030’s emphasis on human capital,” he pointed out.

On the other hand, he added:“The AMA’s formation as a united industry front presents a valuable opportunity to advocate for streamlined regulations, ensuring fair competition and fostering a more conducive environment for growth.”

These developments position Saudi Arabia to embrace its sustainability goals while delivering top-tier automotive solutions. Henain underscores NAVA’s role in bridging the talent gap and AMA’s efforts in fostering local manufacturing and maintenance capabilities.

“NAVA’s mandate is to address the local talent gap through specialized technical education programs tailored to the EV industry aiming at preparing a skilled workforce to meet the needs of local EV manufacturing,” he said.

Simultaneously, he added, AMA will lead initiatives to raise awareness in local communities about the ambitions of the Saudi automotive sector and the need to build local capabilities in manufacturing and maintenance, all while protecting the interests of the industry’s stakeholders.

Henain emphasized that similar organizations in countries that have developed their automotive sectors have played instrumental roles in ensuring the success of sector build-up.

“I expect those entities to play an equally pivotal role for the Kingdom’s automotive and mobility sector,” he said.

From Ford’s perspective, Malkawi highlighted the company’s close collaboration with Saudi authorities and associations to meet CAFÉ regulations and requirements.

“While I can’t comment directly on the exact role played by these bodies, I can talk about our own commitment to driving high standards in the industry and pushing the boundaries of automotive innovation,” the managing director emphasized.

He justified Ford’s dedication to continuously developing next-gen technologies that enhance vehicle safety, intelligence, and drivability, along with integrating more sustainable practices and cutting-edge advancements that contribute to the overall growth of the automotive sector.

Malkawi concluded by noting, “As the face of Ford in the Kingdom, our valued distributor partners play a critical role in ensuring our customers enjoy an experience that is always improving, which translates into improved loyalty and, ultimately, growth in the automotive sector.”

Saudi Arabia’s PIF showcases achievements in balancing biodiversity conservation and investments

Updated 13 June 2024

Saudi Arabia’s PIF showcases achievements in balancing biodiversity conservation and investments

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has detailed its successful balancing of biodiversity conservation with its investment initiatives.

The Public Investment Fund highlighted its undertakings spanning diverse sectors, with a focus on sustainable, eco-friendly, and luxurious tourism, as well as responsible mining practices.

According to the UN, human activity, driven largely by unsustainable practices, is the primary driver behind an ongoing biodiversity crisis, with 44,000 species endangered, 70 percent of coral reefs at risk, and fertile land loss surging by 29 percent since 2000.

Saudi Arabia, home to a vast array of plant and animal species, is actively addressing these challenges. 

In a statement, PIF emphasized its role as a major contributor to the Kingdom’s goals for protecting the environment, climate, natural resources, and biodiversity.

The fund pointed out that “it is possible to align successful and realist investment with environmental priorities.”

This holistic approach also promotes responsible investment in protected areas, particularly in nations rich in biodiversity – a commitment echoed by PIF as it strives to achieve Saudi Arabia’s environmental and biodiversity conservation goals.

One of the Kingdom’s wealth fund’s initiatives is Red Sea Global, which was established to develop tourist destinations in harmony with sustainable practices. 

The giga-project has conducted extensive baseline studies of marine biodiversity in the Red Sea and Amala regions to inform strategic planning aimed at nurturing the region’s tourism sector while preserving its ecological balance.

Building on its environmental database, Red Sea Global aims to achieve a 30 percent positive biodiversity conservation return by 2040.

Its initiatives include species protection and habitat restoration efforts, supported by accolades such as the “Regional Sector Leader” award from the Global Real Estate Sustainability Index.

PIF is keen to preserve Saudi Arabia’s wide range of biodiversity. Supplied

PIF’s commitment extends beyond tourism to initiatives like Dan Co., which is dedicated to eco-friendly tourism projects across Saudi Arabia. 

Launched in December 2023, Dan Co. aims “to achieve leadership in the field of rural and environmental tourism” through partnerships with local communities, offering visitors experiences that showcase Saudi Arabia’s diverse cultural values.

Moreover, Soudah Development Co. focuses on creating luxury mountain tourism destinations in Asir, integrating environmental sustainability with cultural preservation and community empowerment. 

By partnering with local wildlife and vegetation conservation authorities, Soudah Development plays a crucial role in advancing Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Green Initiative to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

In tandem with these efforts, mining company Ma’aden has embarked on environmental undertakings, including projects for vegetation improvement and mangrove preservation along coastal areas—crucial for community livelihoods and ecological stability. 

Ma’aden’s commitment to biodiversity management sets benchmarks for responsible mining practices across its operational spectrum.

According to PIF, these collaborative models illustrate that robust investment strategies can coexist with environmental conservation imperatives. 

The fund stated: “PIF is moving toward achieving sustainable economic and social development capable of ensuring continued economic growth while protecting natural diversity through an integrated system of vital initiatives and projects that shape the future for generations to come.”

The Kingdom boasts rich biodiversity, including 499 species of birds, 117 mammals, 107 reptiles, 266 coral, 1,230 types of fish, eight amphibians, and over 2,400 flowering plants, according to the National Center for Wildlife.

Recent events, such as Saudi Arabia’s participation at the High-Level Event on Ocean Action in San José, Costa Rica, on June 10, underscore the Kingdom commitment’s in this field. 

The event, attended by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Climate Affairs Envoy Adel Al-Jubeir, focused on sharing expertise in ocean governance and safety, addressing critical challenges marine environments face. 

At the accompanying exhibition, the Saudi delegation showcased national initiatives under the banner of “Blue Saudi,” highlighting efforts such as assessing and rehabilitating environmental habitats in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. 

Emphasizing the importance of preserving biodiversity, the delegation presented plans to designate protected areas and ambitious programs to plant mangrove trees and combat plastic pollution through legislative measures and waste management initiatives. 

Saudi Arabia reiterated its commitment to sustainable practices under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, underscoring its dedication to conserving marine biodiversity.

In May of this year, the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve in Saudi Arabia achieved accreditation as “the first major biodiversity site in the Kingdom,” confirmed by Key Biodiversity Areas. 

The reserve, spanning 130,700 sq. km, meets three global standards, including the presence of endangered species, qualifying it for this prestigious recognition, which coincides with the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22 each year.

Managed by the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve Development Authority, the Saudi reserve aims to safeguard endangered species, enhance natural habitats, promote environmental awareness, and mitigate threats from natural and human factors. 

This area is recognized as the largest nature reserve in the Middle East.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in red at 11,498 

Updated 13 June 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in red at 11,498 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index dipped on Thursday, losing 152.88 points, or 1.31 percent, to close at 11,498.93.   

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR10.97 billion ($2,92 billion) as 62 of the listed stocks advanced, while 165 retreated.    

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index decreased by 18.86 points, or 1.29 percent, to close at 1,437.54. 

However, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu increased by 104.55 points, or 0.39 percent, to close at 26,753.99. This comes as 30 of the listed stocks advanced, while as many as 27 retreated.  

The top-performing stock of the day was Rasan Information Technology Co., which saw its share price surge by 30 percent to SR48.10. 

Other top performers included Al Taiseer Group Talco Industrial Co. and Al Moammar Information Systems Co., whose share prices soared by 14.42 percent and 7.24 percent, to stand at SR49.20 and SR163, respectively. 

In addition to this, other top performers included Saudi Cable Co. and Chubb Arabia Cooperative Insurance Co. 

The worst performer of the day was Saudi Manpower Solutions Co., with its share price dropping by 8.51 percent to SR8.28. 

Other poor performers included ACWA Power Co. and Miahona Co., with their share prices declining by 5.31 percent and 5.19 percent to reach SR331.80 and SR21.56, respectively. 

Furthermore, other underperforming stocks included Sahara International Petrochemical Co. and Savola Group. 

On the announcements front, Rasan Information Technology Co. surged in its Riyadh debut, raising SR841 million with its shares peaking at SR48.1, a 30 percent increase from the offer price of SR37. 

Bloomberg reported that the IPO saw strong demand, with orders totaling $29 billion, making it oversubscribed 129 times, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s push to diversify its stock exchange beyond traditional sectors like banking and industry.  

“Rasan, which operates online insurance platforms such as Tameeni and Treza, will be among the first fintech firms to go public in the kingdom, which has only seen a few tech listings so far,” Bloomberg added. 

Besides Rasan, buy-now-pay-later firm Tabby and online cosmetics retailer Nice One are considering IPOs, according to Bloomberg News. 

Flyadeal receives first fully-owned aircraft in landmark moment 

Updated 13 June 2024

Flyadeal receives first fully-owned aircraft in landmark moment 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s low-cost airline flyadeal has taken delivery of its first-ever wholly-owned aircraft in a “milestone” moment, according to the CEO.

The airline received the Airbus A320neo, named Al Sama after an Arabic constellation star in Toulouse, Airbus’ main assembly site.

This acquisition is also the company’s first new aircraft in 2024 and marks the beginning of a delivery plan that includes adding four vessels this year and eight A320neos in 2025.

The newly acquired aircraft will join the airline’s expanding domestic and international route network, serving nearly 30 destinations across Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa.

Flyadeal CEO Steven Greenway, along with colleagues Ahmed Bakadam, director of maintenance and engineering, and Ali Al-Zahrani, senior manager technical fleet, gathered in France for the official exchange. 

“The addition of aircraft number 33 represents a symbolic double milestone for flyadeal, bringing in our first fully owned aircraft and inducting the first new aircraft into the fleet this year. Until now all flyadeal aircraft are leased,” Greenway said.

He added: “With a plan targeting around 50 aircraft by the end of 2025 that will double to 100 by 2030, we are on course for a dynamic delivery schedule over the next few years. An incredible growth path that is being accelerated by the shear demand for inbound and outbound travel catering to a diverse profile of travellers.”

Greenway expressed satisfaction with their partnership with Airbus and highlighted the aircraft’s comfort and eco-friendliness, emphasizing their commitment to providing passengers with a positive flying experience. 

As part of future fleet requirements, flyadeal placed its largest ever order last month for a further 51 Airbus A320 family aircraft comprising 12 A320neos and 39 larger A321neos. 

Sporting a spacious cabin of 186 seats in a three–three configuration that features seating of the highest standards and specifications for a low-cost airline and larger than normal overhead bins, the A320neo is the backbone of flyadeal’s fleet, which is among the youngest in the industry averaging just over two years old. 

Saudi Aramco partners with NextDecade for 20-year LNG supply deal

Updated 13 June 2024

Saudi Aramco partners with NextDecade for 20-year LNG supply deal

RIYADH: Energy giant Saudi Aramco has signed a non-binding agreement with US-based NextDecade to supply 1.2 million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas for 20 years.

According to a press statement, LNG will be supplied from the fourth liquefaction train at NextDecade’s Rio Grande Facility at the Port of Brownsville in Texas. 

“Aramco and NextDecade are currently in the process of negotiating a binding agreement, and once executed, the effectiveness of which will be subject to a positive final investment decision on Train 4,” said Aramco in the press statement. 

Aramco’s Upstream President Nasir K. Al-Naimi said the company is exploring opportunities to expand its presence in the global energy market. 

“We look forward to finalizing the terms of a long-term LNG offtake agreement with NextDecade as we explore opportunities to expand our presence in international energy markets,” said Al-Naimi in the release.  

“We expect LNG to play an important role in meeting the rising demand for secure and efficient energy,” he added. 

Matt Schatzman, chairman and CEO of NextDecade, said he is “pleased to have reached a heads of agreement with Aramco for LNG from Train 4, as Aramco seeks to expand its LNG portfolio.” 

Saudi Aramco, one of the biggest energy firms in the world, has been taking crucial steps in recent months to expand its global presence. 

In May, Aramco completed the acquisition of a 40 percent stake in Gas & Oil Pakistan, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuel retail market.

In April, Saudi Aramco disclosed that it is in talks to acquire a 10 percent stake in China’s Hengli Petrochemical, aiming to strengthen Aramco’s growing downstream presence in the Asian country. 

In February, speaking at the India Energy Week in Goa, Faisal Faqeer, Saudi Aramco’s senior vice president of liquids to chemicals development downstream, revealed that the energy giant is engaged in investment discussions with several Indian companies. 

Earlier this month, Saudi Aramco also retained the leading spot in Forbes Middle East’s Top 100 listed companies for 2024, with $660.8 billion in assets and $1.9 trillion in market value.

Moreover, Saudi Aramco continued its strong fiscal performance in the first quarter of this year amid global economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions. 

On May 12, Saudi Aramco revealed that its net profit for the first quarter of this year reached $27.27 billion, representing a rise of 2.04 percent compared to the last three months of 2023. 

According to a statement, the oil firm’s total revenue for the three months to the end of March stood at $107.21 billion, with total operating income for the period reaching $58.88 billion.  

NEOM welcomes Capella’s wellness-focused resort in Magna region

Updated 13 June 2024

NEOM welcomes Capella’s wellness-focused resort in Magna region

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s future city, NEOM, is poised to welcome an 80-room wellness-focused resort after Capella Hotels and Resorts announced its first coastal destination at Elanan in the Magna region. 

This new offering from the Singapore-based hospitality group provides a fresh option for travelers to the area, supporting the Kingdom’s ambitions to establish itself as a tourism hub in the region. 

The resort is part of the sustainable development unfolding in northwest Saudi Arabia, the company said in a press release. 

Cristiano Rinaldi, president of Capella Hotel Group, said: “Combining Saudi Arabia’s breathtaking natural landscapes with NEOM’s innovative technology, we are poised to provide guests with an unparalleled wellness experience that promises delight and discovery.”  

He added: “This sanctuary will elevate Capella Hotels and Resorts’ esteemed wellness offering, featuring a curated series of exciting programs.” 

In February, NEOM announced Elanan, a new guest retreat focused on luxury and well-being experiences, nestled in a natural setting. 

This announcement adds to NEOM's recent sustainable tourism destinations in the Gulf of Aqaba, including Leyja, Epicon, and Siranna. It also includes Utamo and Norlana, along with Aquellum, Zardun, and Xaynor. 

Jeremy Lester, NEOM's executive director for Magna, expressed delight in collaborating with Capella Hotels and Resorts at Elenan. He described it as a “stunning haven that blends luxury with the spectacular landscape,” offering an exclusive sustainable retreat dedicated to holistic wellness. 

“It’s a fusion of aligned values and aspirations. Together, we’ll craft an environment to set a new standard in luxury guest experiences.” Lester said. 

The release emphasized that guests experience tranquility in a modern environment that blends contemporary design with natural beauty. 

It also noted that Capella enhances hospitality with a focus on wellness and innovative design through Capella Wellness, providing a relaxing sanctuary infused with modern aesthetics. 

On June 5, NEOM revealed its luxury lifestyle destination Magna. The development is part of NEOM’s sustainable portfolio in the region, focusing on integrating cutting-edge technology, world-class architecture, and modern amenities with the natural environment, according to a press release.