From June 2018, this will no longer be a crime in Saudi Arabia. Picture: REUTERS
From June 2018, this will no longer be a crime in Saudi Arabia. Picture: REUTERS

New York — Car companies have not wasted any time courting the 9-million potential customers who will be unlocked when Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female drivers.

The decision has lit up social media, with cheers and jeers for the ruling, which takes effect in June 2018. Also joining the chorus are car makers looking to capitalise on the move, racing each other to get their first words out to woo prospective female drivers in the Middle East’s biggest economy.

In a Twitter post, "Welcome to the driver’s seat", Ford Motor attached an image of a woman’s eyes appearing in a rear-view mirror against a black background. In another tweet under the hashtag #SaudiWomenCanDrive, it offered a "dream car" to a women’s rights campaigner by putting up a picture of a bright yellow Mustang racing in a tunnel.

Tata Motors Land Rover and Jaguar brands posted an image of a handbag spilling out a car key, lipstick and a bottle of perfume among other items, with titles that say, "Adventure awaits you" and "The road is yours".

Volkswagen published a black picture, placing the words "My turn" between two henna-tattooed fists. BMW’s Mini attached an 11-second film showing a chestnut Cooper driving off a parking space with words painted in white that read "Reserved for Women".

Diversify economy

The move by King Salman bin Abdulaziz to issue driving licences to women is part of a larger effort to modernise and diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on oil. The change might add about $90bn to economic output by 2030, said Ziad Daoud, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Increased mobility means more women will be able to seek work, which could boost discretionary income. Opening up the market will not only boost demand for cars, but also for related products such as insurance, loans and billboard ads, which at present are barred from depicting women.

While sport utility vehicles have been a fixture on Saudi roadways, car makers may need to add more smaller models for single working women and female students, analysts say.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber Technologies could experience a decline as more women get behind the wheel.

For now, car companies are trying to capture the attention of their potential female drivers.

Japanese car maker Toyota Motor, whose vehicles made up 32% of all those sold in Saudi Arabia in 2016, tweeted a picture of a female driver standing next to a shiny blue car. Its high-end Lexus brand published an image of a woman’s finger on an ignition switch with its website and phone number underneath.

"Share your choice with us?" it asks in Arabic.

Nissan Motor, which is considering making cars in the kingdom, published a number plate on which is printed "2018" and "Girl" in Arabic, congratulating women who now have "permission to drive".

Bloomberg

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