Car Loan Scheme Censured

Car Loan Scheme CensuredCar Loan Scheme Censured

The new auto loan scheme, introduced by the government last week in an effort to help the inefficient and loss-making domestic auto industry, has drawn concern among health and environment officials, as well as ordinary people.

The plan was met with public enthusiasm, as more than 110,000 gas guzzling low quality sedans were sold in four days because of the 250-million-rial ($ 8,600) loan per vehicle offered by the central bank at 16% interest rate over four years.

Health Minister Dr. Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi censured the scheme “as thousands of additional cars will now ply the already overcrowded streets in most big cities without paying heed to environmental or air pollution concerns.”

“We are a nation used to negligence rather than preventive action,” he rued, reports Young Journalists Club.

Based on a World Health Organization report last year, 80,000 people die prematurely every year in Iran due to air pollution. Twenty-one percent of all deaths are attributed to air pollution, according to the report.

It is said that the government was pushed to take action to save the half-century-old underperforming auto industry following an online campaign that started in August to dissuade the people from buying overpriced domestic cars, which are overpriced and of low quality.

Word also went around that the auto industry, desperate and sinking under the weight of its own contradictions, was pleading to be salvaged as its warehouses were full of unsold cars made mostly with Chinese spare parts.

 High Fatalities

Official statistics indicate that more than 4,400 people die annually in Tehran alone, meaning one person dies every two hours in the capital due to high pollution levels.

The situation in other metropolises is no better. Every year, 3,200 people die in Mashhad and 2,700 in Isfahan because of toxic pollutant levels.

In 2013, Ahvaz topped the list of the world’s 10 most polluted cities, while Sanandaj, Kermanshah and Yasouj also made it to the negative list.

Tehran’s air quality has worsened following the start of the new academic year on September 23.

According to the Tehran Air Quality Control Company, the new school year brought with it a 20% increase in traffic that resulted in a 198-ton increase in air pollutants.

The company also criticized the fact that around half a million cars in Tehran are threatening the wellbeing of the over nine million people in the city and nothing is being done about it. Almost all Iran-made cars have a poor fuel economy with probably the lowest per gallon mileage compared to any other foreign-made vehicle.  

To make matters worse, tests on Euro-4 gasoline distributed in Tehran in October showed significantly high amounts of sulfur, a fact denied by Shahrokh Khosravani, deputy head of the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company.

 Car Accidents

In the meantime, Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, Ali Rabiei, announced on Saturday that 90% of victims of traffic accidents belong to the low-income group, according to Borna News Agency.

A majority of applicants for the new car loans comprised the low-income strata. The demand for cheap cars has increased in recent years and local manufacturers say they are struggling to balance the quality and price of affordable models, in a scenario where years of western economic sanctions have also added to the ills of the indefensible and labor-intensive industry.

Meanwhile, no concrete measures have been taken to enhance the quality of cars as a strategy to attract buyers. A top-selling, affordable but substandard vehicle ‘Pride’ produced by Iran’s second largest car manufacturer, Saipa, is described by the police “as the number one source of death on Iranian roads.”

“It seems allowing old, poorly-maintained cars to roam the streets is more important than the health of millions of people,” Vahid Hosseini, director, Tehran Air Quality Control Company, was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.

Given the fact that over four million cars already ply Tehran daily, one cannot help but see the latest loan scheme as a Faustian bargain that fails to consider the ramifications of the new influx of vehicles on the health and wellbeing of the people.