By on December 19, 2014

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A year ago, TTAC broke news of back channel overtures being made towards Iran on behalf of General Motors. A number of Chevrolet Camaro Convertibles made their way to Iran via a complicated logistics network and the importations were of dubious legality. But the event highlighted a sentiment in the auto industry that few are willing to openly discuss: the BRIC countries, once the darlings of the emerging markets, have already been exhausted. The search for new markets is on, and that means places like Africa and Iran. And Cuba could be next.

While the French auto makers have established foot holds in Africa, Iran and Cuba represent two untapped markets for auto makers – the only challenge is navigating the complex political considerations that make international trade difficult.

Iran’s auto market is expected to grow to 1.5 million units by the end of the decade – nearly 50 percent greater than Australia’s, and slightly higher than Canada’s. The current sanctions in place against Iran will make it difficult for auto makers to set up shop in the country, but when they come to an end, there will be a groundswell of demand from a country that has a highly educated and relatively affluent population. Iran already has a booming domestic auto industry with long established ties to the French OEMs, but that shouldn’t stop foreign brands from attempting to compete.

Cuba, on the other hand, was on precisely nobody’s radar until the surprise announcement that America and Cuba would attempt to normalize trade relations with one another. But that development, coupled with rapidly changing laws on car ownership, could open up a whole new market in the United States’ backyard. And talk about pent up demand – some 60,000 cars dating back to 1959 or before are still on the roads, held together by MacGyver-esque engineering. To be fair, a trickle of new cars has come into the country, but they are largely restricted to taxi owners and, government agencies and rental car fleets.

The irony of Cuba and Iran’s status as potential emerging markets is lost on nobody, but any enthusiasm should be tempered. The process of economic liberalization will likely take years to fully unfold. But that doesn’t mean that auto makers should defer their preparations.

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89 Comments on “Editorial: Cuba And The Axis Of Emerging Markets...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Wake me when the embargo drops to the point where you can get honest to god Cuban cigars without breaking the law.

    Otherwise, I don’t care.

    • 0 avatar

      You can bring back $100 worth under the new agreement.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Yes, but at present:

        1. Americans can’t go to Cuba, except on business.
        2. You still have to get those cigars through customs (eg, at the US/Canada border, because of #1 above)
        3. You can’t sell them to someone else

        Still, it’s better than nothing.

        • 0 avatar
          RHD

          Americans can also go to Cuba to participate in competitions, such as sports and amateur radio.
          Canadians can go to Cuba with no difficulties at all.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Fly or drive to Toronto and then take a flight to Cuba.

          I have dual citizenship so my Canadian self can go to Cuba.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            This. The current non-travel ban to Cuba is full of so many holes that it isn’t that hard for the average America to go to Cuba as a “tourist.”

            I have at least half-a-dozen friends who have already done it, and you do not become afoul of US law.

            The trick is not to spend one penny in Cuba (the new rules would lift that). Everything is pre-paid to your tour operator who then buys everything on your behalf.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            Or pay cash

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I’ll trade you my cigar quota for your aged rum quota.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        @Clutch

        If it is like Baccardi, I pass. So far one the best rums I have drank is a Dominican one my compadre brought for a party. The Venezuelan Ron Antiguo de Solera is also very very good.

        In my local liquor store I can buy a Cuban one. I may try it, just out of curiosity.

        My point is, the Caribbean has plenty of Good stuff and you don’t need to miss whatever the Cubans produce.

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          As a non-smoker, cigars would be nothing more than a giftable item for me, and I really don’t want any more smoking going on around me than already happens. I do enjoy aged rums that have had the benefit of a wooden caress, even Bacardi’s version. While I doubt that Cuban versions would improve upon the already available Caribbean options, I would be willing to do my share in helping out the Cuban economy.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            Where I come from and IIRC, by law, rum had to be aged in wooden barrels for 2 years before being sold. That’s the spirit I came to like and appreciate. I didn’t like the Baccardi (white) because… it wasn’t like that.

            I would buy the Cuban stuff to see how it is. And it better be good. But NEVER to help their economy, as they have sucked dry the place I come from.

        • 0 avatar
          Roberto Esponja

          Athos Nobile,

          If you can obtain it where you live, try Ron del Barrilito, a Puerto Rican rum. Excellent.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      The $100 limit is cool, but still somewhat meaningless. Cuban cigars there are cheap, but your still buying them in USD,CAD or CUC and it’s nowhere the same price break you would get in most countries with massively devalued currency. I usually max out the 50 stick limit when coming back and it’s still ~$4-600CAD depending on what you buy.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    All I can think of is Flock of Seagulls. “Iran. Iran’s so far away…”

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Those old cars seem so alluring until you imagine climbing into one.

    60+ years of human effluvia marinating in the Cuban sun and saturating every non-metallic material and the paint on the metal.

    Too much sweaty humanity, which pretty much describes Cuba. The only things “emerging” there will require UN health teams.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Bah, no different than buying a Cadillac in Florida. The big knock on Cuban “classics” is that they’re all goofy half-Soviet frankenmod cars by now. The sheet metal is about the only vintage material left on them.

      • 0 avatar
        petezeiss

        “no different than buying a Cadillac in Florida”

        Well, shyeah.. who would do that?

        Florida’s full of rednecks as bad as Haitians and the climate’s no better.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I would, my ’79 Seville was obtained from the estate of the original owner, a Cuban Doctor from Miami

        • 0 avatar
          rpol35

          Pick a state, any state; there are rednecks everywhere, Florida has no lock on that.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Isn’t Connecticut or NH suitably full of WASPY people and not rednecks?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Florida rednecks are particularly red and dumb

          • 0 avatar
            319583076

            Florida’s version seems to be the most extreme in many aspects, however.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Florida seems to breed a special grade of crazy/stupid though. I think it is the sun baking their brains. Seriously, anytime something comes on the news that makes you just think “WTF?” it is always some loony from or in Florida.

            I know I have heard a good joke about the difference between rednecks and good ‘ol boys, but darned if I can remember it at the moment – anyone?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            What’s the difference between a good ol’ boy and a redneck?

            The good ol’ boy raises livestock. The redneck gets emotionally involved.

          • 0 avatar
            jrmason

            Reminds me of the difference between a northern girl and a southern girl….

            A northern girl says “you can” and a southern girl says “y’all can”

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Pete …..I never really thought about that. But now that you mention it, it seems pretty gross. Dude , you make me laugh. God knows I need it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Having been in a Cuban cab:

      * They don’t smell that bad. They aren’t great, but they aren’t any worse than Costa Rica, Greece or some parts of Italy. Sometimes they’re better

      * Cuban public health is actually, shockingly, very good. There’s not a lot of advanced technology, but they nail the basics as well as any western nation and are much, much, much better than anywhere in central America; only Costa Rica compares. This includes, and in many cases, exceeds, what the US has to offer. Cuban maternity and neonatal/postnatal/pediatric care is much better than the US, on average.

      • 0 avatar

        life expectancy in Cuba is on par with the US.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          It’s better, 79.07 years Cuba, 78.74 years US

          Preconceived notions and presumptions based on disinformation sucks

          • 0 avatar
            86er

            Find me someone who’d trade places for that extra 4 months of life expectancy (who isn’t wearing a Che t-shirt) and I’ll smuggle you some Cuban contraband.

          • 0 avatar
            Buckshot

            Strange, a dictatorship that has longer life expectancy than usa? Must be a good dictatorship (or more probably a piss poor market economy)

          • 0 avatar
            ect

            The sad fact is that life expectancy in the US is 2-4 years less than in other developed countries.

          • 0 avatar
            stingray65

            Actually if you compare Swedish-Americans to Swedes, and German-Americans to Germans, and Japanese-Americans with Japanese, Cuban-Americans with Cubans, etc. you will find the US versions always have longer life-spans as well as better standard of living. In addition, ailing dictators always prefer to get their care in America.

          • 0 avatar
            Roader

            Life expectancy is a tricky thing. Take away fatal injuries – car accidents, homicides, etc. – and the US has the highest life expectancy. Typically fatal injury means instantaneous death, something no medical intervention can prevent.

            The US is a risky place. Lotsa’ cars and lotsa’ guns. Cuba has neither. But Cuba does have a lot of doctors. Back in the late 50s under Batista Cuba had more doctors and dentists per capita than the UK, and had a lower infant mortality than France and Germany. Castro took over a very healthy country.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            The US has GREAT medical care, if you can afford it. If you can’t, well, sucks to be you, though that is getting very slowly better. Cuba has decent medical care that is basically free to everyone.

            On average, theirs is probably better for the basic stuff – they have more doctors per capita, and they don’t pay them nearly as much, so for basic day-to-day medical needs, they do a great job. Assuming good insurance, I would much rather get cancer in the US though.

        • 0 avatar
          Rod Panhard

          Do you really believe that the Cuban government is going to let out statistics that don’t make them look good?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The statistics are prepared by the WHO and other international organizations, which perform their own statistical analysis.

            Medical training is one thing that the Cubans do pretty well. These discussions would be more productive if the opponents would acknowledge the things that are good about the place and if the defenders would acknowledge the flaws.

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            “acknowledge the things that are good about the place”

            Marvelous cigars, no attempt to replicate the magical soil and climate mix has ever completely succeeded. Wish I could still smoke if we’re going to more easily get them.

          • 0 avatar
            Roader

            Fidel went to Spain for a fourth colon surgery after three botched surgeries at Cuban hospitals. I wonder how many other Cuban citizens have that chance?

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    http://www.topgear.com/uk/car-news/abandoned-mercedes-benz-300-sl-found-in-cuba-2014-12-18

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The problem with Cuba is that the only people there who can afford to buy new cars are… the government cronies who already have them. And Cuba’s population is only 11 million anyway.

  • avatar
    dwford

    We should have normalized relations with Cuba years ago. I mean, they aren’t equipping terrorists (Iran), selling arms and building nukes (North Korea), or rable rousing against the US on the world stage (Venezuela). Just a couple of old time communists leaders waiting to die. You know the next generation has seen enough Western culture to want it for themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      Yeah. Keeping up sanctions there has probably helped keep the regime in power as much as anything. It gives the government the ability to blame the US and its oppressive policies (in Castro’s mind and rhetoric anyway) for the nation’s hardships instead of having the people look at the government’s failed economic and political polices over the years.

    • 0 avatar
      Exfordtech

      Once you show them the emperor has no clothes, the power structure might collapse. It would be easier to air drop a million smart phones and somehow provide direct satellite service to them and let them see what’s really going on. I don’t see why we don’t do this on a grand scale to N Korea. You can’t brainwash the masses if they have access to truth.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Since the monthly wage in Cuba is $22. Yes, that’s $22, not $220. It’s $22. It’ll be a long while before Cubans can afford an oil filter, much less a whole car to put it in. This makes Nicaraguans look wealthy with their $1200 per year salaries. When I was in Nicaragua, I saw lots of Chinese motorcycles.

    As for the rest of the “deal,” the Vatican and Spain had sorted out all of the hostage releases, other than Gross, in July, 2011. They’ve been gradually releasing those 52 hostages so the Castros don’t appear weak.

    I seriously doubt Havana’s infrastructure can accommodate a 21st Century American embassy. However, given that Cuba’s military owns the hotels on the island, and are used to building resorts that would seem to stress the waters, sewers, and grids for electricity and communications, I’m pretty sure they’re willing to help out the US State Department with all of our infrastructure needs in Havana.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I see a boom for the film industry wanting to film period movies. Lots of old cars and old buildings. Also the old cars would still be a bonanza for car collectors even though they don’t have the original power trains. Just think of all the body parts. Can you imagine the amount of tourist and gaming business.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I would be a Canadian , as such I can travel to Cuba without restrictions . That being said, my wife and have flown to the Islands countless times. I never,have or never will set foot on Cuban soil.. Cuba is a popular spot amongst my cheap country men. I can tell too many stories , of folk that have run afoul of Cuban law. Cuba can make the Mexican justice system , look fair, balanced ,and without corruption .

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      I regretted every second I was in Cuba.

      The CUC racket, the cynical Che merchandise, all the apparatus that props up that decrepit regime.

      I do not say this to disparage the Cuban people, who are overwhelmingly as good a people as you’ll find anywhere. I gained more valuable insight into what was going on by reading Mark Frank’s (sympathetic) account of the recent social and economic reforms.

      I can’t recommend which way things should go in Cuba, that’s not for me to say. All I know is that at the snail’s pace of change going on, they have a long road ahead. The apparent U.S.-Cuban rapprochement may be more about painting the Republicans into a corner than for altruistic reasons, but time will tell.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I can’t quite figure out the Cuban move myself, the only thing that comes to mind is trying to split Cuba from the Moscow axis while the Soviets are weakened. Who knows perhaps Fidel is already in a freezer and Raul is looking to slowly/peacefully transition his gov’t to being friendlier with the West. Whatever the reason I can’t see any real movement until Fidel’s death is announced.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          Like they always say, 28 follow the money and you’ll have your answer. If I were a hotel/resort developer I’d be drooling at the prospect of normalized relations with Cuba

          • 0 avatar
            JMII

            Being from south FL I can just imagine the fishing in Cuba must be all kinds of awesome. Just 90 miles from Key West? Perfect on a calm day in the summer it would be an easy run by boat. The run to the Bahamas is only 60 miles from West Palm.

            And if FL is full of rednecks they all came from Michigan and New York… damn snow birds!

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “damn snow birds!”

            You must be a Seminole Indian, because everyone else in Florida is either a “damn snow bird” or Cuban

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          I appreciate reading the insight into Cuba, but after 56 years we need to open up relations with them. Cuba will change eventually but without relations we have no influence. The Castro brothers will eventually be gone and a new leader will want the economic opportunities that a freer market will bring. As more opportunities come, citizens will demand more freedoms which is already happening in
          China. Most people want the same thing regardless of race, religion, or political leadership. Most want a better life for themselves and their children. Change will happen in Cuba but it might take years.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    Imagine all the revenue from taxing those Cigars!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    So from right to left, what do we gots? I’m not great at identifying such old cars.

    53 Chevy ____ Bel Air?
    50 Mercury
    48 Olds Eighty-Eight
    51 Ford something?

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      They’re all Chevys, the one furthest right is a ’55, the others range from ’49 to ’52 or ’53, though it’s hard to tell

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        When I played the dissapointing game LA Noire (which took place in 1948), I often drove around in the Olds 88 models, which looked much like that third one there. Course I guess even back then there wasn’t much difference in them.

        I recall the Olds had an emblem on the back advertising the Hydra-Matic or what have you.

        I also often chose the 48 Fleetwood Seventy-Five or the Packard Super 8.

      • 0 avatar

        The far left is the only one that might be a ’53, but I doubt it. I agree with everything else Calvin says, including that the far right is absolutely a ’55.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Cuba has only 11 million people, so the market opportunity is limited. Iran has seven times that amount, which makes it more interesting.

    Cuba is also tremendously poor, not because of the embargo but due to the country’s mismanagement. Every other nation was able to trade with Cuba; the place would be crawling with Hyundais and Peugeots if the Cubans could afford to buy them. Laissez faire capitalism may be an awful thing, but a Marxist command economy is even worse.

    • 0 avatar

      +1

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      PCH, you nailed it.

      The US-Cuba agreement has some time in the making. I think 1-2 years. It won’t be long when we read relations will be restored with Iran too.

      The laws to which Derek makes reference are there, but the prices are a rip off.

      I am wondering what are the other readings this agreement has. Obama cleverly suspended (he spoke about it before) the day after that the US the visas of some Venezuelan government fat cats.

      Cuba obviously has huge benefits from this. Economically and politically. What are the ones for the US?

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Well, it’s not just cigars or normalization would have happened under Clinton :D

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Putin had plans to rebuild Russia’s relationship with Cuba, including an oil drilling deal. Hopefully, Obama just torpedoed that.

        This Cuba fetish also negatively impacts US relations with other countries in Latin America. This could help warm things up a bit.

        I would also presume that Obama is trying to build his legacy. It is typical of second-term presidents to make foreign policy gestures for the sake of posterity. The Iran deal is looking iffy, the Asia pivot is a challenge and Israel-Palestine is stuck in a ditch, so he doesn’t much else to work with.

        • 0 avatar
          Athos Nobile

          “This Cuba fetish also negatively impacts US relations with other countries in Latin America. This could help warm things up a bit.”

          Considering the influence Cuba has gained in the region in the last 10-15 years, greased generously by Venezuelan oil $$$, you may be right. This will help at least to counter the “we are against the empire” rhetoric.

          Most of the region has moved to Castro-friendly governments. Starting by its first colony, Venezuela, then Argentina, Brasil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Colombia. I may be missing some or the order may be wrong. The US had to do something to regain some influence in its backyard.

          The timing suits the US. The lower oil prices will weaken Venezuelan ($$$) and Cuban influence (political).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Putin had plans to rebuild Russia’s relationship with Cuba, including an oil drilling deal. Hopefully, Obama just torpedoed that.

        This Cuba fetish also negatively impacts US relations with other countries in Latin America. This could help warm things up a bit.

        I would also presume that Obama is trying to build his legacy. It is typical of second-term pres1dents to make foreign policy gestures for the sake of posterity. An Iran nuclear deal is looking iffy, the Asia pivot is a challenge and Israel-Palestine is stuck in a ditch, so that doesn’t leave much else to work with.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    First off, the rest of the world does not have an embargo against Cuba, they don’t want to sell to Castro cause he does not pay his bills, that is all, recently for the first time they had open, govt backed sales of almost new cars, they were so damn expensive that no one could buy one, even though who receive money from their Fl exiles friends and families, you do see new rental cars from Hyundai and some from Europe, but even those are not new they’re a couple of years old, only govt big shots there get new cars, not the general public, remember the only rich people there are the Castro bros

  • avatar
    J.Emerson

    It’s probably time to drop the R from BRIC and go with BIC instead.

    Even if China and India are leveling off (if you can call 6-7% annual growth leveling off) don’t they still provide more opportunities for expansion than the rest of the world put together?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “Isn’t Connecticut or NH suitably full of WASPY people and not rednecks?”

    Re Connecticut, it depends….central western and southern Connecticut as well as the city suburbs, WASPy. Northwestern and eastern Connecticut – I hear banjos plucking.

    YMMV.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Canada new vehicle sales in 2013 was already 1.74 million, so Iran growing to 1.5 million by the end of the decade means what, exactly?

    Having driven through East Germany in 1980 to get from Hamburg to West Berlin and back, no way I was ever going to visit Cuba. I got a glimpse of hell – too long to relate here. As a Canadian, every single one of my acquaintances has had a Cuban vacation.

    What do they do there? Get completely blind drunk and sunburnt at Government run hotel complexes. Spend one afternoon or evening outside the compound in local towns to see the local flavor, get badgered by locals trying to make a quarter, get introduced to a local Cuban girl who wants to get to Canada and knows how to express her appreciation. It’s a total f*** up.

    My compatriots come back hung over insisting it was their best vacation ever. This tells me they don’t care about anything but themselves and cheap booze. The way the place is run, who cares, type of attitude.

    I say no involvement with dictators, nominally Communist or otherwise, unless tangible reforms towards freedom are taken. Freedom is something you don’t treasure unless you have even an inkling what these people-enslaving regimes do to their people. Then you have to he aware enough to even recognize the hellhole Cuba is, not something my compatriots seek to be able to see.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    There is an article in Hemmings Daily from someone who actually travels to Cuba often. He says the vintage cars are not ‘pristine’ as some assume. Quote: “Very few have panels not peppered with dings. Straight cars have pounds of bondo or filler smoothing the sides. Paint is whatever they can scrounge…”

    So the idea that the cars there are “worth millions” is not quite true.

    http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2014/12/19/carspotting-in-cuba-courtesy-of-graham-lloyd/

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Quote: “Very few have panels not peppered with dings. Straight cars have pounds of bondo or filler smoothing the sides.”

    So these are not Barret-Jackson ‘million dollar rides’, some have said “Cubans would get rich selling their cars”. Not really.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Africa gets our stolen ones. How much disposable income do Cubans have? Lots innovative, homespun mechanics & parts makers for a dealership chain to compete with.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    I shouldn’t take the bait to post, but really so many negative opinions without knowledge, even the most basic.

    First of all, the Passport does NOT get a stamp! Sheesh.

    Second, the description of vacationers being in a cheap booze induced halo in the sun and not caring about anything beyond the area applies to all-inclusives, not just in Cuba. The difference is, if you go to for example the Dominican or Jamaica, then you do get truly harassed outside “the resort compound”, and I don’t just mean people high pressure selling drugs but everything else too, repeatedly. Much more polite and less intrusive by far in Cuba, and the land is noticeably cleaner than in those other two places as well.

    The press is making too much out of this “historic” change. The biggest thing I think that will happen in the near term, meaning 1-3 years, is US agriculture will sell more to Cuba as they have been pushing to do for years (and have been doing some selling). The difference is, instead of getting paid up front through a complex and expensive multiple banking arrangement, they will start shipping on credit or partial credit. Thus, they will join Mexico, Spain and lots of others by ringing up bad debts or at a minimum, vastly extended payments. Cuba just wants to lower the prices it pays for goods by instilling more competition from the US. Pure capitalism at work!

  • avatar
    dougjp

    I shouldn’t take the bait to post, but really so many negative opinions without knowledge, even the most basic.

    First of all, the Passport does NOT get a stamp! Sheesh.

    Second, the description of vacationers being in a cheap booze induced halo in the sun and not caring about anything beyond the area applies to all-inclusives, not just in Cuba. The difference is, if you go to for example the Dominican or Jamaica, then you do get truly harassed outside “the resort compound”, and I don’t just mean people high pressure selling drugs but everything else too, repeatedly. Much more polite and less intrusive by far in Cuba, and the land is noticeably cleaner than in those other two places as well.

    The press is making too much out of this “historic” change. The biggest thing I think that will happen in the near term, meaning 1-3 years, is US agriculture will sell more to Cuba as they have been pushing to do for years (and have been doing some selling before now). The difference is, instead of getting paid up front through a complex and expensive multiple banking arrangement, they will start shipping on credit or partial credit. Thus, they will join Mexico, Spain and lots of others by ringing up bad debts or at a minimum, vastly extended payments. Cuba just wants to lower the prices it pays for goods by instilling more competition from the US. Pure capitalism at work!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Thanks for the link to the article in Hemmings. Very resourceful people, it shows you what people can do with limited resources. I have never seen a 57 Pontiac crew cab truck. The Cubans will do fine after the Castros.

  • avatar
    Roader

    Havana before the idiocracy:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwqxFnE1YHw

    Cool cars.

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