Iran's largest car maker, Iran Khodro, has said that problems with quality and lack of government support were undermining its ambitious plans for a massive increase in exports over the next four years.

According to Agence France Presse (AFP), Iran Khodro, established in 1962, wants to increase exports to 250,000 cars in 2010 from 6,000 vehicles in the last Iranian calendar year 1384 (March 2005-March 2006).

Alireza Mirzai, Iran Khodro's director of exports, told the news agency that the company's export efforts were focused on Iran's flagship "national car" the Samand, the successor to the notorious [Hillman Hunter-derived] petrol-guzzling Paykan whose production has now ceased.

The locally-designed Samand is based on Peugeot 405 mechanicals.

But Mirzai reportedly outlined a litany of factors that he said showed "poor governmental support" for the company's foreign sales efforts. "The government has not been yet able to accept the concept of exports," he said.

Mirzai pointed to "a lack of membership in regional or international trade pacts that would ease up customs, targeting unprofitable markets for political reasons, belated payment of exports bonuses, and a complicated system of customs and loans for importers."

He told AFP that while Iran Khodro was encouraged to export to Syria as Tehran's major regional ally, Damascus "has relentlessly and unilaterally cut its car imports tariffs."

But he also admitted that "the most important problem is the product's quality, then it comes to punctual delivery of products according to our commitments, which is sometimes problematic."

Agence France Presse noted that Iran started a drive to boost exports only two years ago with 1,100 cars exported in 2004, the same as the total amount sold over a 10-year period between 1993-2003.

The figure exported in the current Iranian year has so far reached about 9,000, already well over the 6,000 sold last year.

"Our main exports began with the Peugeot 206 [also produced locally by Iran Khodro], but due to some problems we decided not to rely only on domestically produced foreign cars and put our efforts into the national car of Samand," Mirzai said.

The decision means the Samand, a virtual newcomer in the car industry, has to compete with established foreign brands like Kia, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, and Toyota that still enjoy lower prices and higher quality.

Iran Khodro's current and potential target markets vary from ex-Soviet countries to Sudan, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.

But the company also wants to target countries closer to home like Iraq and Afghanistan, Mirzai told AFP.

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