TAL-KURDI, Syria (Sputnik) – Chinese carmakers have been setting up manufacturing plants in Syria following the withdrawal of Western investors, while local business also hopes to see the opening of the Russian car production factories in the Middle Eastern country.
“This plant was built in 2012, just before the start of the war. We were forced to evacuate soon after we started the manufacturing [business]. In 2016, the area was liberated [from militants], but when we came back, we found out everything had been destroyed. Chinese investors offered their assistance in rebuilding the plant”, Bilal Shammout, the executive director of the car factory, said, adding that now the plant produces about 10 cars a day.
“The assembly technology is very simple: the frame goes first, then the engine, then the transmission, the gas tank, the electrical engineering”, Mager Halyawe, a factory worker, explained.
The car production process is organised according to Syrian and Chinese standards.
“We assemble more of certain [car] models in response to demand. Everything you see in the showroom, at the workshop, is the cars that were assembled here”, Shammout said.
For example, a small pickup truck with a manual gearbox and a load capacity of up to a tonne is in demand among farmers and traders. Its market price is about $5,000, including customs fees.
“After the assembly, we drive the cars to the test site at the neighbouring workshop … Then the cars are tested on the street, and if there are no complaints from inspectors a car is put up for sale”, he added.
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A model of a Chinese off-road car looks like an Audi, but is way cheaper, with a cost of about $20,000. Still, not many people in Syria can afford it.
Shortage of Qualified Specialists
Syrian authorities are providing support to car manufacturers as they are interested in the growing car market.
“We were provided with a constant power supply as well as fuel supplies to be able to fully test the cars. Moreover, when we send a request to the chamber of industry in Damascus, it is never rejected … and we do not have to deal with bureaucracy”, the plant director noted.
However, according to Shammout, the shortage of qualified specialists is one of the problems his company is currently facing.
“Now we really need more workers, both specialists and handymen. We are ready to hire both refugees and foreigners … We have sent letters to the chamber of industry multiple times to help us find qualified workers”, Shamut said.
He said a qualified specialist can earn up to $500 a month in his factory, while the average monthly salary in today’s Syria is $120-$130.
At the moment, Shammout’s factory employs 70 people.
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“I worked as a mechanic in a small car repair shop before the war, and I also had my own shop selling auto parts. But they were looted by militants. I lost my job, could not feed my family. When I found out that they were recruiting here, I immediately applied [for the job]. The salary here is decent”, Halyawe told Sputnik.
West and East
The last batch of modern cars came to Damascus at the end of 2011. The car dealerships that the capital’s suburb of Harasta was once full of were destroyed during the fighting. Government forces regained control of this suburb in early 2018, but the car dealerships did not reopen because international carmakers stopped cooperating with Syria due to sanctions.
The Chinese business has immediately taken advantage of the situation, but Shammout hopes to see Russian manufacturers such as Lada also opening their plants in Syria.