Iran Khodro, the Middle East's largest car maker, reportedly has ambitious plans to produce a million cars a year by 2011, expanding units in the Middle East, Africa and former Soviet states.

Reuters noted that Iran Khodro has signed production agreements with Renault and Peugeot, and is looking to be a key producer of the Renault L-90 Logan, a cheap family car.

"Our target is to increase production to one million cars per year by 2011; it means increasing production by an average of 20 percent each year," the carmaker's vice-president Javad Dehnadi told Reuters in a recent interview, adding: "Of these, 30% will be either exported or manufactured abroad. Our target markets where we can compete with others are African, Middle Eastern and CIS (Confederation of Independent States) countries."

According to Reuters, Khodro has already signed contracts to manufacture the Samand, Iran's new national car, in Syria and Senegal, but the firm is eyeing new markets in Central Asia.

Dehnadi reportedly declined to name specific countries before contracts were signed but the news agency said the plant in Syria is due to come on stream in March 2006, with a capacity of 30,000 cars per year, and the Senegal plant will start output in September that year.

Reuters said Iran Khodro, which is 40% owned by government, 30% by private shareholders, and 30% by investment companies, is based in a four million square metre mini-city just west of Tehran, from where it has been rolling out cars for over 35 years.

It has 19,500 staff, who, in the year to March 2005, will have increased output 19 percent to 515,000 cars, Dehnadi told the news agency.

Reuters said the Iranian car maker has a deal to build Peugeot's 206 Sedan, a French design to be produced at Iran Khodro with Iranian investment.

"The Peugeot 206 Sedan will be introduced at the Frankfurt autoshow in October. It will be exported to 47 countries," Dehnadi reportedly said.

The company plans to export 25,000 of them in 2007, Reuters added.

The news agency said the Logan is due to start leaving the factory in September 2006, replacing Iran's ancient, petrol-guzzling [Hillman Hunter-based] national car, the Paykan.

Reuters said 500,000 L-90s will be manufactured in Iran in total - 150,000 at Iran Khodro, 150,000 at Saipa, the country's second-largest carmaker, and another 200,000 at a plant to be built by Renault.

Dehnadi reportedly said joint projects such as those with French carmakers had benefits for both sides - foreign automakers are offered a smoother entry to difficult markets.

"Joint projects are a win-win situation; they help us improve our technical capabilities," he told Reuters.

Reuters noted that Iran Khodro's ambitious plans have not come easily - the official reportedly said workers had gone on strike for a couple of days last year, complaining about their work-load.

"Our press-shop, for example, works in four shifts, because we want to take the most advantage of our 200-million-euro investment there," Dehnadi told Reuters, noting the average Iranian worker was not yet accustomed to European standards of productivity.

"We work 330 days a year," making his company the world's 14th-largest car maker, Dehnadi said, according to the report.