In Afghanistan, a car for the masses

A man washes a Toyota Corolla at a curbside carwash in Kabul. Some dealers say 90 percent of passenger vehicles in the capital are Corollas.
A man washes a Toyota Corolla at a curbside carwash in Kabul. Some dealers say 90 percent of passenger vehicles in the capital are Corollas. (David Nakamura)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 27, 2010

IN KABUL Afghanistan, graveyard of empires - and Toyota Corollas.

If this war-torn nation of 29 million is a magnet for foreign occupying forces that never seem to leave, it is also the land where old Corollas from around the globe come to die.

According to some car dealers in Kabul, 90 percent of passenger vehicles on the increasingly congested roads of the capital are Corollas, some more than 20 years old, with 200,000 miles on their odometers, still chugging along over rocky dirt roads.

"Here is the museum of old cars," snorted Abdul Qahar Nadi, managing director of Afghan Auto Limited, the country's only Toyota distributor authorized by the parent company in Japan to sell new models. Nadi has upped his sales from 64 vehicles in 2006 to 401 last year, but he says it is hard to persuade Afghans to pay more when used models are ubiquitous. "It's not good for the health. There's big pollution," he said.

(Photo timeline: The war in Afghanistan)

Shipped from Japan, Germany, Canada and the United States, used Corollas pour through customs, mostly via Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and wind up in used-car lots clustered in three hilly neighborhoods on Kabul's outskirts, having been banished from downtown during a rapid expansion of dealerships after the Taliban was driven from power in 2001.

Prospective buyers can choose from a surprisingly diverse selection of Corollas, including sedans, hatchbacks, and yellow station wagons once used as taxis in faraway lands.

Ahmad Murid, 30, a dealer in the northern Kabul neighborhood of Khairkana, said buyers generally prefer German-manufactured Corollas, which supposedly get the best gas mileage. White Corollas, which show less dirt than dark-colored ones, fetch up to $1,500 more than an identical model in black, he said.

Drivers usually don't care about odometer readings, since they are likely to replace most of the parts, anyway.

Murid was selling a 1990 model with a dingy interior and 292,213 kilometers on the dash for $4,000. How long could someone expect to drive the clunker?

"Ten years," Murid suggested.

And after that?


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