By Shakeh Avoyan
Sales of cars and other means of transportation in Armenia reached another record high last year in what government officials see as a vivid indication of economic growth and rising living standards.
According to the Armenian traffic police, a total of some 53,000 vehicles were imported to the country, mainly from Russia and Western Europe, between 2003 and 2005. Police officials say approximately 20,000 of them were brought in and sold last year, a new post-Soviet record. The National Statistical Service puts their combined monetary value at $95 million.
Both the police and other government agencies refuse to disclose the total number of personal cars, trucks and other vehicles registered in Armenia at present, saying that that is a state secret. Some police officials have said only that it has surpassed the late Soviet-era level.
“According to our information, the figure is close to 300,000,” said Eduard Hovannisian, chairman of the Achilles non-governmental organizations representing the interests of Armenian motorists.
“Demand in cars has increased,” said Mkhitar Mikaelian, a sales manager at Armenia-Lada, the country’s largest car dealership. “This is due to the growth of the middle class and rising revenues of wealthy persons.”
Most of the cars are believed to be concentrated in Yerevan where traffic has grown much heavier in recent years. Traffic jams during rush hours are now an increasingly serious problem, especially in the city center. The police say the rising number of cars also means more traffic accidents both in the Armenian capital and other parts of the country.
Second-hand European-made cars, cheap by Western standards, cars account for much of Armenian vehicle imports. But according to Mikaelian, the share of brand new Western cars in the imports has been steadily growing. “There is now greater demand in the kind of cars which many people here considered a luxury a few years ago,” he said, singling out SUVs that have until now been the preserve of wealthy Armenians.