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In Saudi Arabia, Big Boom For Big Used U.S. Cars

July 14, 1992

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Wondering where the good old wide-bodied American gas guzzlers have gone? Look to the desert superhighways of Saudi Arabia, where more and more people are tooling around in roomy, used U.S. cars.

Even in this wealthy kingdom, prices of new cars are rising more rapidly than the average Saudi’s salary. More and more citizens are into used cars, and they like the old American models the best.

″The dream car for the middle-income Saudi is now the Chevrolet Caprice - before it went aerodynamic,″ said Bakur Azher, director of Saudi Auto Trader magazine.

″It’s perfect because most Saudis have big families and they need the room, the air-conditioning’s good and the size and weight give the impression of safety.″

Back to back, the used-car lots in Jiddah now take up almost a square mile. It’s a long way from the 1970s when, at the peak of the oil boom, high-rolling Saudis changed their cars for new models every year, usually simply dumping old models.

Mahmood Abuzeid of Al Sultan For Cars, the kingdom’s biggest used-car dealer, describes the Caprice as ″the queen of the used car market in Saudi Arabia″ - especially if it’s loaded with options.

The new Caprice is not so popular, he said, adding that Saudis have dubbed that model ″Lifebuoy″ because they think it’s shaped like a bar of soap.

The old cars come over from the United States in relatively good shape, compared to the wear and tear wrought by a harsh climate on a used car in Saudi Arabia, and their value is greater.

Also, Saudis aren’t too worried about getting good gasoline mileage. In the the world’s largest oil-exporting country, gas is cheap and has gone cheaper since spring.

Leaded fuel is still the only kind of gasoline sold here, although there are plans to introduce unleaded by 1994 or 1995. That means that the catalytic converters must be taken out of used American cars when they arrive. But even with these expensive changes, Saudis still consider them a good buy.

About 30,000 used cars, most of them American, came into Saudi Arabia last year, according to the Norwegian shipping company Hoegh-Ugland Auto Liners, which handles most U.S. car imports. That’s about three times more than 1990. With big profits to be made for the Saudi importer, everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon - from the student shipping home a couple of cars after graduation to the small-town entrepreneur in Hofuf and the big-time dealers who line Jiddah’s Medina Road.

″If you’re going to see your son at university in the States, for sure you’ll bring back a few cars,″ says Jamil Yasin of Asaf International, a used-car dealer who opened in the last year.

He said Saudis were making profits of up to $2,000 per Caprice - ″and that more than pays for the vacation.″

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