Turkey has undertaken a range of political and economic measures to boost its independence from other countries in recent years. Now, it is ushering in a major breakthrough for its automobile industry. The first ever Turkish-developed, Turkish-made car — by Turkey's Automobile Joint Venture Group (TOGG) — is going into production.
The new TOGG car factory began operating on October 29. The date carries a clear message as it marks the 99th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
TOGG was first founded in 2018 for the purpose of making Turkey more independent from foreign carmakers. "It is an important step contributing to the rise of Turkey's car industry," according to Emre Özpeynirci, a journalist and automotive expert, who has been closely following the TOGG project.
The plan for next year is to manufacture some 17,000 to 18,000 electric vehicles at TOGG's factory near Istanbul. The site is designed for a capacity of up to 175,000 cars annually, a target that decision-makers want to reach in the next five years.
Public divided over TOGG
Even though the TOGG factory is beginning production now, it will be a while before the vehicles reach the market. The company projects that the first cars will be ready by March 2023 — a few months ahead of the presidential election.
On June 18 next year, voters will decide whether to keep Erdogan in office or pick someone new to succeed him.
The TOGG car success or failure could influence the vote, as the vehicle is widely seen as a prestige project by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The TOGG automobile has been promoted as the "people's car." Indeed, when the project was first launched by Erdogan, people "expected this would be a car affordable to everyone in Turkey," says Özpeynirci.
Critics of President Erdogan und his party, the AKP, are certain he is using TOGG to boost his chances of re-election. "Of course investments like these are always supported by the state, but if there are political tensions, this will harm the project before [a single] car is even built," says Özpeynirci.
"It is a big problem, this car polarizes [opinions]," says Özpeynirci.
Neither affordable nor practical?
TOGG plans selling its SUV at 900,000 Turkish lira (roughly 50,000€), which is unaffordable for most people in Turkey. Özpeynirci says ordinary consumers could invest no more than 500,000 lira for a new car. In one or two years, a more affordable model will follow.
The high retail price might not be the only disappointment in store for potential buyers. Turkey also lacks the necessary infrastructure for the owners of electric vehicles.
"Turkey's infrastructure is not yet ready to make the switch to e-cars," says Automotive Data CEO Hüsamettin Yalçın. Ordinary people, according to Yalçın, should not have to worry about whether there will be enough charging stations en route from Ankara to Istanbul.
While TOGG vehicles are designed and assembled in Turkey, components like batteries, engines and some electric systems are imported. To date, 51% of materials used to build the vehicles are Turkish-made. Industry minister Mustafa Varank has said he wants to raise this to 65% in coming years.
For now, TOGG cars are designed for the domestic market rather foreign buyers. This stems partly from the combination of components used to build the car, which drive up production costs, says Özpeynirci. He says if TOGG succeeds in using 70% Turkish made components, its cars will become competitive internationally.
Muhammed Kafadar contributed to this report.
This article was originally written in German.