Iranian Company to Head 'Islamic Car' Project

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

( - A bloc of Islamic nations will decide at a summit next March whether to go ahead with a project to build an "Islamic car" for the Muslim market, with Iran's largest automaker at the helm.

If the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) approves, the car should be available by 2011, the official Iran Daily quoted the managing director of state-owned Iran Khodro, Manouchehr Manteghi, as saying Wednesday.

Representatives from the OIC and countries likely to be involved in the project -- Iran, Malaysia and Turkey -- will meet in Tehran next month to formulate the proposal, he told a press conference, adding that other potential partners included Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan.

"Well-known European car designers will be invited to contribute to the joint project so that the car will comply with the technology of 2011," he said.

Manteghi said the car, which has yet to be designed, will sell for up to 8,000 euros ($11,780), and the main markets would be in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.

"The Islamic car is a joint brand among member states of the OIC, targeting Muslim markets and aimed at boosting their economy and industry," he said.

Last month, the managing director of Malaysian automaker Proton first announced the plan for an Islamic car, saying during a visit to Iran that the vehicle would offer features including a compass showing the direction of Mecca -- to facilitate five-times-a-day Muslim prayer -- and a special compartment for the Koran and headscarves.

Manteghi, however, saying those features would be "added options."

Iran Khodro is the largest automaker in the Islamic world, and it ranked 24th in the "top 100 companies in the Muslim world" for 2006. It announced last week that it had produced 502,000 cars in the past 11 months (Proton is the second-largest, at 74th place in the top 100, and sold 130,000 cars last year.)

After Proton's chief executive, Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir, first went public with the idea of an Islamic car in November, the Malaysian company declined to elaborate further.

Spokesman Gary Lee Kien Hoong said Proton "will not be issuing any further statements or comments until there are more developments in the future."

Not all reaction to the news in Muslim Malaysia was positive, and in online forums, many participants called the idea "stupid" and a "gimmick."

Ali Tawfik al-Attas, the government-appointed director-general of the Institute of Islamic Understanding (IKIM) -- a state body established "with the task of representing the true understanding of Islam through various programs" -- wrote in a column that reports of an Islamic car had angered him.

The word "Islamic" applies to an activity that requires an actor, he said -- not to an inanimate object like a car.

Al-Attas said the focus seemed to be not on making the car "Islamic," but "rather on using the term 'Islamic' as an advertising tool purely for economic gain."

He said Islam was not "the handmaiden of politics or a cliche for advertising, business and economics ... far from ennobling the Muslims and the Muslim world, such proposals like an 'Islamic car' bring shame, and invite unnecessary ridicule."

Austin Weber, senior editor of Assembly magazine -- a publication aimed at the product assembly market -- wondered in a posting on its website Wednesday whether the auto industry was "ready to mix religion and assembly."

"The possibilities certainly are intriguing," he wrote. "Perhaps the Vatican should consider developing a Catholic Car. Or, how about a Jewish Jeep?"

See also:
Islamic Car Coming Down the Pike? (Nov. 12, 2007)

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