Nothing if not defiant, Iran has inaugurated a car manufacturing plant in the centre of the country in the teeth of international sanctions.

According to state-run news agency IRNA, which seems to be able to speak for the government on just about every issue, automaker Saipa will produce around 150,000 cars annually for a domestic audience traditionally reliant on – principally French – models produced locally.

And there’s a bit of detail with IRNA saying a small model to be known as the Tiba (deer) will retail for between US$8,000 and US$9,000

Of course the notoriously vocal President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad couldn’t resist becoming involved and is quoted on the state-run television website (everything in Iran appears to carry the suffix ‘state-run’) as praising the Iranian nature of the project.

The President has just returned from tweaking the nose of his great foe, the US in its very heartland of New York and is trumpeting the “first Iranian vehicle with Iranian characteristics as it is designed and manufactured by Iranians.”

But Ahmadinejad does concede that perhaps the standards of Iranian-produced products will need to improve to convince his countrymen it is worth shelling out up to US$9,000.

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“The quality of our cars should be such that if an Iranian wants to buy a vehicle, he must prefer home-made ones,” Ahmadinejad said.

Iranians have been used to seeing French models from Renault and Peugeot on their roads as Saipa and fellow-Iranian automaker Iran Khodro have traditionally produced the vehicles, but the Tiba represents a new step forward to indigenous products.

“Tiba is the symbol of our confidence in ourselves … The Iranian nation has shown that despite sanctions and pressures from enemies, we have resisted and have progressed,” added Ahmadinejad.

There is if course the tricky question of running the Tiba once purchased. Extraordinarily, given the country is sitting on vast lakes of oil, petrol is rationed with citizens reportedly having their allowance of cheap fuel at 10c a litre reduced by 25%.

The issue appears to be linked with international sanctions as exporters come under pressure to reduce the availability of oil to Iran.

And any electric vehicle programme would appear to be light years away, particularly as sanctions discourage investment and technology share.

However, don’t bet against the resourceful Iranians managing to get their hands on the requisite EV technology at some stage. Who knows if historically friendly countries such as China, might cooperate.

As ever, sanctions hurt ordinary consumers the most. And with Iran currently in the throes of domestic political unrest, the population appears unlikely to be able to purchase Western-imported or locally produced cars in any number for quite some time.

In Soviet times there used to be an ad for the Russian airline Aeroflot, which simply said: “Fly Aeroflot.” Wry Russian commentators would remark: “Well, who else would we fly” the missing inference being “could” not “would.”

Iranians are seeing an ever-diminishing choice of products as sanctions continue to bite. The Tiba is a small start in a country mad keen to catch up with having access to world-class brands.

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