The man at the top of Morgan Motor Company believes he could sell into a growing market in Iran if sanctions were lifted.
Charles Morgan, who heads the Malvern-based family firm founded by his grandfather, revealed he had received two approaches from prospective Morgan dealers in the Islamic Republic.
Mr Morgan described the would-be dealers as “progressive Iranians” and said he would be delighted to see his cars available in the country.
The approach came in the wake of a visit to the country by Mr Morgan, which he described as an eye-opener and one which dispelled many of the preconceptions Westerners have about the country.
“I was absolutely blown away,” said Mr Morgan who said he took up the invite of “a paid-for trip to attend a prestigious conference”.
“They invited me to go. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it ordinarily but I spent a lot of time in Iran when I was an ITN cameraman and I wanted to go back and this was an opportunity.
“We had two approaches from potential dealers. As soon as sanctions are lifted, two progressive Iranians have asked to be Morgan dealers.
“It is incredible what Iran has done under immense duress. You wouldn’t believe the amount of buildings and improvements and infrastructure – in spite of the completely loony leadership.
“There is a growing middle class. All these businessmen at the conference are completely apolitical and doing a fantastic job modernising Iran in spite of the ridiculous religious leaders.
“We demonise Iran in the world, probably for very good reasons and they do have an extreme leadership, but that leadership only represents a minute proportion of the country and none of the middle class.”
Illustrating the extent to which modern Tehran defies expectations he said: “Northern Tehran is full of some fabulous flats and they’re all leading a completely Western-style life. There are BMWs and Mercedes on the streets and I went to a superb sports club in a skyscraper overlooking Tehran that had a swimming pool on the roof that was Olympic-sized and heated to 90 degrees.”
Looking at exports generally, Mr Morgan said the company would be selling cars in China for the first time this year and is also looking at other emerging markets.
“In terms of markets we are very much Euro-centric,” he said. “We export 70 per cent and the UK remains our largest market but that could change with Germany overtaking it this year. We have always sold in Japan and America has always been a place where people love Morgans.
“Then there are emerging markets like Brazil India and Turkey. Even without the heritage our product is appealing in these markets.
“The interesting thing with China is you are starting from scratch – they don’t have a 100 years of Morgan history. Three dealers have approached us in China and we will be appointing this year and we hope to sell between 30 and 50 cars there a year.
“We have sent four cars to Shanghai and Beijing and a dealer is going to sell our three-wheeler in Hong Kong, though we’ve had a presence in Hong Kong for a few years.”
High import duties remain a concern, though, according to Mr Morgan, who added: “Because they are emerging economies they have all protected themselves like mad with duties and tarriffs – in China the duty is 137 per cent.
“They will dump lots of Chinese cars on us and we will charge them 10 per cent.
“It’s perfectly valid while protecting their own industry but now China is the biggest car market in the world why do they need protection? It should be free trade.”
With the arrival of Morgan to the People’s Republic, he also dismissed the threat that may be posed by the popular Chinese practice of copying cars made in the West.
“I would regard it as a big honour,” he said. “They will never be as good as ours so we have nothing to worry about.
Other export targets include India and Brazil, with cars scheduled to go on sale in India this year too.
And Brazil is somewhere where Mr Morgan sees great potential.
“I went to Brazil with HSBC who have just made us Midlands Business of the Year.
“It’s a country where I recognise the potentially massive appeal of the three-wheeler, particularly on a place like Copacabana Beach.”
Flying the flag for Britain: Pages 36-37