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Kazakhstan 2016 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Anton Afonin, Executive Director of Astana Motors Company, on partnerships, industry trends, and how the sector will respond to fluctuating oil prices.

Anton Afonin
BIOGRAPHY
Anton Afonin has been the Executive Director of Astana Motors Company since February 2015. Prior to that, he worked at Rolf Import Russian Company, where he was responsible for the development of a Mitsubishi dealer network. In 2006, he was appointed to the development of Mitsubishi distribution project in Kazakhstan. In August 2009, Afonin was made Managing Director of Rikom-Kaz Company, and in December 2010 he was invited to Astana Motors KMC as the Deputy General Director, where was engaged in sales, strategic planning, dealer network development, mutual relations with brand suppliers, and operations development in distribution.

What have been Astana Motors Company's main developments and achievements in recent years?

Astana Motors Company experienced a rapid rise during the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. For the last four years, we have been focused on developing an effective business model. We try to grow faster than the market, and in crisis years shrink promptly to avoid damage and the ability to react to the market changes. Due to the hard work of the company, we saw excellent results for 2013-14: We sold 20,000 cars each year, increased our dealer network by adding more than 19 partners, built new dealerships, and saw the highest level of customer satisfaction so far. As a result, even in spite of today's situation in automobile industry, the company has been able to hold a market share of 17% since 2015.

You are the representative in Kazakhstan for international carmakers such as Hyundai, BMW and Subaru. Are you looking for the new brands?

We cannot say we are actively searching for new partnerships. However, we are open for any offers from potential partners among the world's top players as a strategic way to develop the company further. Such partnerships would, of course, allow us to increase the infrastructural power, receive new technologies, and to enhance own team.

Have you noticed any trends in the national automobile market?

A primary trend today concerns the domestic car industry, in particular the production of commercial vehicles. Kazakhstan has focused on the development of its own automobile production. Astana Motors Company has successfully realized this idea along with Hyundai. We have also been the representative for FAW's heavy commercial vehicles since 2015. This sector is popular in our country. However, Astana Motors Company is not planning to stop with just heavy commercial vehicles; we have made progress in producing small-class buses and are now considering developing long-distance buses, as there is a need in the country to update the entire bus fleet, no less than 50,000 per year. We will also see a growth in interest in Chinese products. Chinese vehicles have not been popular in Kazakhstan because there were many quality alternatives from European and other Asian brands. Now, however, the quality of products has improved consumers in Kazakhstan have responded positively.

What are your expectations for the coming year?

Despite favorable conditions, market reclamation will take a while, as we are recovering from a serious fall. There are many forecasts today, most of which depend on the price of oil, which is the main factor that influences the tenge exchange rate. The premium segment is unlikely to be affected. Customers have a higher demand for new cars than for used cars, which are imported. This demand will ensure the sector will continue to develop. We expect the market will improve only minimally in 2017, while the real growth occurs in 2018-19. But again, everything will depend on the price of oil and other macroeconomic factors. In order to be competitive, it is necessary to improve constantly by adding new services and bettering quality. Our market has always been a spontaneous one and hard enough to forecast market disruption, as there are many factors that contribute. We look at the situation in the future with optimism. The Kazakh car market has great potential, and Astana Motors Company has a portfolio of good brands, professional personnel, and clear management policy. For the medium term, we want to enlarge our activity in the internal market, introduce new products and services, and develop exports for commercial vehicles.