Monday, February 05, 2007


At first blush, all Syrian taxis are the same: small, boxy, and with very little leg room. But, look closer, and you'll notice a dozen or more makes and models, a virtual showroom of minis and compacts, built and sold often exclusively to the developing world.

Perhaps the most common is the Iranian SAIPA Saba. (I rode in one today.) SAIPA stands for Societe Annonyme Iranienne De Production Automobile, and began in 1966 producing a two-cylinder Citroen mini passenger car, as well as versions of the Renault.

Also common are the Romanian-made Dacia Solenza and Dacia SuperNova, which comes with a stylish racing fin on the back.

Then, there's the Russian Lada Samara, which was sold in Russia under the name "Sputnik." The Samara started production in 1984 and enjoyed modest success in Western Europe (one common glitch, according to a Web site, was that the hazard and reverse lights would often illuminate when the driver applied the breaks, which was known as the "disco lights" problem). But after 1997, it was sold mostly domestically, as well as in countries with lax emissions standards.

Then, there's the Fiat Palio, which is known as Fiat's "world car," aimed at developing countries; the Turkish Sahin, the Chinese Chery; the South Korean Daewoo and Kia; the Japanese Mitsubishi and Toyota.

Finally, there's the Chinese Geely (pronounced with a soft "G") whose parent company began making refrigerators in 1986, then motorcyles, and later became the first independent automobile manufacturer in China. It exported its first cars in 2003. It expected to begin selling cars in North America in 2008, according to the Wikipedia Web site, but test vehicles failed U.S. crash and emissions test; so the roll-out date was pushed back to 2009.