The luxury Lexus RX 350 Sport Utility Vehicle was unveiled on Tuesday for the first time in Yemen, during a ceremony at the main show room of Toyota’s Automotive and Machinery Training Center in Sana’a.
Toyota, a fixture of the Yemeni automotive scene since its first sale in Aden in 1954, is seeking to break into the luxury market, which had previously been cornered, in Yemen at least, by competitors.
Representing a seemingly unassailable seventy percent of market share in Yemen, Toyota maintains the highest sales of any car company both in the country and in the broader Middle East.
While the bulk of the company’s sales have been in more modest and affordable models, especially in the four-wheel drive Land Cruiser 7 series and the omnipresent Hilux pickup (the best-sellers of 2008 and 2010, respectively), Toyota hopes that the value of the new models will turn a profit, even if only a small number are sold.
Mr. Aidrous Bazara, Managing Director of Toyota’s operations, noted that certain signature Toyota models had become a distinctive part of Yemeni culture, and had become ubiquitous in major cities and, especially, in the countryside.
“Our cars, especially the Land Cruiser and the Hilux, reflect the image of Yemeni lifestyle, and have even come to be regarded as a status symbol.”
Noting that these models conveniently matched Yemeni needs for rural transportation, as well as conveying large amounts of livestock, goods, as well as people, he said of the Hilux, “on the road, it runs as smoothly as a Camry; off-road, it’s as durable as the Land Cruiser.”
Between 400 and 450 Hilux’s are sold each day in Yemen.
Still, some confusion, as part of the recent world-wide recall of a certain Toyota model last year, was acknowledged by Toyota.
“Many of our customers misinterpreted the recall. This is especially since the difference between “recall” and “withdrawal” is difficult to convey in translation.
“In any event, the move should not be interpreted as negative, or as a sign that we have an inferior product, but rather that we are a responsible company dedicated to quality control and delivering the best possible product.”
While noting the existence of low-cost Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian cars in the global market, and the recent activity of competitors like Hyundai in Yemen, Mr. Bazara remained confident that low prices did not conform to high quality, and that Toyota’s reputation and sales strategy would ensure that its share of the market would remain at current, high levels.