Raymond Ma

Raymond Ma

Managing Director, Union Motors
Geoff Dowding

Geoff Dowding

COO, Al Habtoor Motors (AHM)
Dubai's automotive scene is slowly shifting to electric, pushing all market players to revamp creativity for an increase in market share.

How do you tailor your products to the Dubai market?

RAYMOND MA We invest a great deal of R&D to test our cars for durability and reliability. The climate in Dubai is arid and air conditioning is, therefore, extremely important. Our focus has always been to understand the driving habits of the local community. The designs are now strong and innovative, incorporating the latest technology. For our showrooms, it is important that we offer world-class service to our customers. We understand what our customers want and are fortunate that we have successfully become the number-one choice for local Emiratis, with a market share of 30%. For both our brands Changan and Geely, we count Emiratis as our top customers. We have products that satisfy everyone's needs and offer top value for affordable prices. We offer an affordable luxury alternative to the current established brands in the market. All the brands present in Dubai are extremely competitive, with high standards, but Chinese automobiles with their extensive investment in R&D are well equipped to compete.

How do you assess the strength of your brand portfolio?

GEOFF DOWDING AHM has a broad portfolio of products, from the top brands such as Bugatti to light commercial vehicles. We have seven automotive brands, two of which are Chinese. Our principal brand is Mitsubishi, the third-largest brand in the country in terms of automotive sales. Mitsubishi has been with AHM since 1982, and there are few countries where it has such a strong position. We have an associate commercial vehicle business, as well as a premium prestige division where we have Bugatti, McLaren, and Bentley. Bentley enjoyed a strong year because of the success of the Bentley Bentayga; the introduction of an SUV made a huge difference. AHM was once again the biggest global dealer for Bentley in 2017. We are always on the lookout for opportunities, either through our existing products or by broadening our range of products. When you have an infrastructure such as ours, the economies of scale make commercial sense, enabling us to absorb additional brands relatively easily. All logistics and back-end operations are well within our reach and existing structure.

How do you coordinate the branding campaigns of Geely, Changan, and your company?

RM We hire our teams specifically for those brands. We have collaborated with strong Chinese automotive brands and they believe in us, which is why they come to us for cooperation to move their brands forward. In a short space of time, we have achieved a great deal, though we will still continue to grow aggressively and introduce more brands for our consumers. Geely recently hit 5,000 units in the UAE, which is a great achievement for us. With Changan, we are building a footprint with our aggressive plans for three new models in 2018. We are looking into electric vehicles, though that will take some time.

How was 2017 for the automotive sector?

GD 2017 was a challenging year for the automotive sector, with total vehicle sales not at the levels of 2015 and 2016. The market is down compared to previous years, which creates pressure on volume and margins. Everyone wants a bigger slice of what is effectively a smaller cake. The challenge now is to cope in this environment. Never underestimate your customer. They do their research, are astute, and know all the features and specifications; therefore, we have to be focused on customer experience.

What are your expansion plans?

RM We are focused on the UAE. We have many strengths in the GCC but want to focus on making sure that our UAE consumers are satisfied and that our presence is competitive. We want to make sure we are present in every Emirate. In 2018, we will aggressively open new showrooms and service centers. We have many customers from Fujairah and Al Ain and want to have a presence there to cater to their needs. We also have new products and brands that we will introduce and will be present in the Motor Show for another brand that we will launch. We see a bright future leading up to Expo 2020, seeing as we are aligned with the UAE's vision to ensure that our people are improving their knowledge and skills.

GD The expectations that car manufacturers have from the Gulf, and Dubai in particular, have always been high. To stay successful, we will have to differentiate ourselves in different ways. Our thinking for the future has to be around service and the offerings to the customer. There is huge competition out there and more brands are coming to Dubai, as they see an opportunity to grow in this region. At the same time, customers are becoming more discerning. It is up to us as an automotive distributor and a retailer to provide a compelling package for the customer.