DAMMAM: SIRAJ WAHABarab news staff
Published — Thursday 13 December 2012
Last update 13 December 2012 1:11 am
Saudi Arabia took a giant leap forward yesterday when Commerce and Industry Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah unveiled Isuzu's medium-sized truck that was fully assembled at the Japanese automobile company's manufacturing plant in Dammam's Second Industrial City.
Isuzu President Susumo Hosoi sat in the passenger seat while the minister personally drove the sleek white vehicle into the makeshift tent where Japanese and Saudi diplomats, government officials, Isuzu executives and well-known businessmen welcomed the new engineering marvel with a thunderous applause.
"I feel very happy and proud to have driven today a vehicle that is made in Saudi Arabia," said Al-Rabiah. "This is a proud moment for all of us, and it marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Kingdom's industrialization and diversification processes."
The Isuzu plant in Dammam began assembling medium-duty trucks using parts supplied from the company's operations in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and China. "Soon we will start manufacturing some of the spare parts right here in the Kingdom," said Isuzu President Hosoi. "We will produce 600 units for the Saudi market as of now, and by the end of 2017, we will be producing 25,000 light and heavy-duty trucks ... 40 percent of them will be exported to countries in and around the region."
The Isuzu president said there were no two opinions that the new assembly operations will contribute handsomely to the development of the Kingdom's industrial and economic progress.
Al-Rabiah thanked Isuzu for choosing Saudi Arabia as their manufacturing base. "Just one day ago, Azzam Shalabi, president of the National Industrial Clusters Development Program, signed a deal with the Tata Group to set up a Jaguar Land Rover manufacturing plant in Yanbu, and we have these 'Made in Saudi Arabia' Isuzu trucks ... all this indicates that the Kingdom is on its way to become an important automobile manufacturing hub in the region," said the minister.
He expressed optimism and confidence that other automobile giants will follow in the steps of Isuzu and Tata Group.
Al-Rabiah said the Isuzu plant is mostly staffed by young Saudi engineers and technicians. "Many of them have studied in Japan under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and have come back to serve their nation," he said. "The setting up of these manufacturing plants will lead to greater job opportunities for young Saudis."
Al-Rabiah had a special word of praise for former Japanese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Shigeru Endo for having played an important role in bringing Isuzu to Saudi Arabia. A smiling Endo acknowledged the minister's sentiments by thanking him from his front seat.
Prominent among those who spoke at the launch ceremony were Modon Director General Saleh Al-Rasheed, Satoshi Miyamoto of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industries, Saudi Ambassador to Japan Abdulaziz A. Turkistani and Yasunari Morino, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Riyadh.
"We are witnessing history," said Turkistani. "This is a result of the hard work that we have been doing all this while to encourage Japanese automobile giants to set up manufacturing bases in our country."
"This is the first complete production base for Japanese trucks in the Gulf region," said Morino. "I commend Isuzu leadership for their inspiring decision and strategic thinking."
Al-Rasheed, the Modon chief, said the manufacturing base will encourage local investments in the automotive industry.
"The cost of production is very high in Japan because of the high costs of energy, and producing trucks here makes immense sense for the Japanese company," said Al-Rasheed. "It gives them a competitive advantage."
Al-Rasheed rightly felt that the manufacturing operations will help spawn a number of secondary industries in automobile spare parts.