Myanmar Reforms Reach Automobile Market
Created: 2012-08-07 14:17 EST
Decades of military rule and trade-crippling sanctions have left Myanmar with one of the oldest fleets of cars on the streets.
But as the country opens up and western sanctions have been eased or suspended, newer vehicles may soon be seen on the roads, with Japanese investors particularly interested in the market.
The Ministry of Rail Transportation held a news conference Monday to announce a partnership with the Japan Car Company, Ltd., a training school developed by Japanese businessmen to teach students how to repair and maintain cars.
After pro-democracy leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament, Myanmar's neighbours and the world are hoping to see continuing changes in the country.
[Kazuhisa Iwamoto, Japan Car Company, Ltd., President]:
"What we hope for, is for the current government, including Suu Kyi, to really develop. We can do our part to help by providing support from Japan. Myanmar is a country that we really hope will develop.”
Iwamoto's company is trying to open up a school in Yangon where Burmese workers can learn how to work with newer vehicles.
Meanwhile, a car exposition advertising mostly vehicles from Japan came to Yangon with a group of about three dozen cars.
The models ranged from 1997 to 2002 with price tags between $15,000 USD to $23,800 USD, which is still up to double the selling price in other countries.
[Thein Tun Aung, Myanmar Bright Wing Company, Ltd., Employee]:
"Other countries say only the very rich in Myanmar could purchase cars in the past because the prices were almost 100 times more than what you can buy them for in Japan. But at the moment, the barriers are coming down for ordinary people and the middle class. People are becoming more interested in cars and it's a better environment to do business.”
Not only are new cars scarce in Myanmar, car showrooms are also rare, and for many Burmese so is the money to buy them.
New cars - from smuggled European sports models to fancy SUVs purchased with import permits - have traditionally been the privilege of the generals who ceded power to a nominally civilian parliament in March of last year.
They and their business cronies have lived lavishly while a third of Myanmar's population of 60 million toiled in poverty, according to World Bank statistics.
[Moe Myint Mg, 23-Year Old Customer]:
"I came here to look at the cars because the prices are going down and there are more new cars that are suitable for our country.”
[Win Myint, 57-Year Old Customer]:
"If car prices go further down, everyone can get cars. But we still have taxes. I think if there's a better relaxation, prices will go down even more.”
As part of Myanmar's reforms, Commerce Ministry officials said showrooms would open in major cities to sell new and second-hand cars from Japan, South Korea and neighboring countries such as Thailand.