Global oil major TotalFinaElf is upgrading its presence in the UAE - and GCC - retail sector by setting up a chain of Total rapid oil change (ROC) centres. The first has already been set up in Dubai exclusively for the 750-strong Metro Taxi fleet, and two more are planned here by September and December, and one is in the pipeline for Abu Dhabi early next year, Alain Cleret, ME and Central Asia regional director for TotalFinaElf Lubricants, announced yesterday.

"The strategy is to go into partnerships with local tyre and spare parts dealers," he said. "The outlets will offer quality services at cost-competitive rates." The total 2001 budget is Dh1 million, with the initiative being more in the nature of building brand awareness, before venturing into neighbouring Qatar, Oman and Bahrain in the next phase. "Saudi Arabia is also a possibility."

A.S. Krishnan, marketing manager at the company's Jebel Ali facility, said, "The UAE retail market has been witnessing a shift of customers from the traditional oil change shops to the more sophisticated lube centres, hence our foray into this direction.

"The ROCs offer different options to customers with a series of safety check-ups and top-ups, and are equipped to service vehicles of all makes and models." The company also hopes to expand its regional lubes presence.

Its Dubai base currently oversees a vast area stretching through East Africa, the GCC, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the CIS, with the regional hub acting as its main platform for exports and re-exports.

The company has a 50,000 tonne lubes blending plant producing over 150 items marketed under 400-500 brand names, the official said. The plant will likely be certified to ISO 9001, version 2000, next month.

Earlier, Jehan-Eric Blumereau, chief representative in the UAE, said the company is involved in a range of diversified activities in both the upstream and downstream oil and gas sectors in the UAE, plus power generation.

"Our primary targets currently are the ongoing Dolphin and Taweelah A1 projects," he said. He added that the Gulf offers numerous growth opportunities, with the political and economic climate being stable, and demand for various utilities set to burgeon.