Iran has stopped importing U.S.-made cars because of a speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticizing them, news agencies report.
Iranian-made automobiles have received low marks on quality and safety
(cartoon by Amin Montazeri, Iranian daily Shahrvand)
Although U.S. car manufacturers have been barred from selling cars directly to Iran for decades, Tehran previously had allowed 24 models manufactured by Chevrolet, a General Motors division, to be imported through other countries.
Tehran's new ban on such imports was imposed on May 1 after a speech by Khamenei on April 27 questioning why Iranians should drive American cars at all.
"Americans themselves don't use U.S.-made cars," Khamenei said. "We have seen this reflected in American media. They argue that fuel consumption is high and the cars are heavy."
General Motors, which sold 259,557 vehicles in the United States last month, told AP that it had no plans to enter the Iranian market anyway, though the Islamic republic is a large market that has been mostly untapped by Western companies.
While most Western countries lifted economic sanctions prohibiting the sale of cars to Iran in January, the United States continues to bar most commercial ties with Tehran, a GM spokesman said, and the company will continue to honor those sanctions.
Currently, there are very few American cars in Iran other than those made before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
U.S.-brand vehicles can be bought in free-trade zones, but their owners face restrictions on where they can be driven.
Since sanctions were lifted under Iran's nuclear accord with world powers, Iran has announced ambitions to become a significant manufacturer as well as consumer of automobiles.
Tehran has been in talks to set up joint manufacturing plants inside Iran with major European automakers, including Fiat, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Renault, and Volkswagen.
Under sanctions, domestic auto production fell sharply from 1.65 million units in 2011 to 740,000 in 2013.
Production crept back up to 1.1 million in 2014, and Iranian officials say they now are hoping to manufacturer 1.6 million cars by 2018, 2 million by 2022, and 3 million by 2025.
With reporting by AP and AFP
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