Tehran: Iran, the only Middle East country with an indigenous automobile company, is about to start exporting a brand of low-priced vehicles to the UAE.

The country's privately-owned Iran Khodro Company (IKCO) has embarked on a massive export campaign that will see its Samand cars for sale in the throughout the Middle East, Africa and South America.

The automaker is partnering with companies in nations with friendly ties to the Islamic republic, and will produce cars in Syria, Venezuela, China, Senegal, Azerbaijan and Belarus to serve the broader geographical region.

For decades, Iran Khodro produced the much-loved and maligned Paykan, a car designed after the 1966 British Hillman-Hunter that is still seen by the tens of thousands on Tehran's traffic choked streets.

When the Paykan was finally discontinued in 2005, Iran Khodro replaced it with the Samand, a modern sedan modelled after the Peugeot 405 that gets mixed reviews from Iranian drivers.

IKCO also is the licence holder to produce Peugeot and Mercedes for the Iranian markets, and also exports some Peugeots to the former CIS countries and Russia.

Alireza Mirzaei, deputy president of the export and international affairs division of Iran Khodro, said the company is in the process of complying with GCC auto standards and hopes to receive approval from the Gulf Standards Organisation in the next two months.

Samand will have to made changes to its front and rear impact guards as well as its cooling system.

Mirzaei said the company plans to export the Samand to all regions to the Gulf in 2007. "I believe after six months from now, you'll see the Samand in the streets of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and also in Bahrain," he said. IKCO will later target the Kuwait, Qatar and Oman markets.

The Samand will be priced for export at under $8,000 for its most basic models and up to $20,000 for its fully loaded models. With Dubai's proximity to Iran, the Samand's bound for the UAE will be produced in Iran and shipped across the Gulf.

The export plan is part of a broader initiative begun by CEO Manoucher Mantegh in 2003 to increase its export sales.

After exporting over 1,000 vehicles for the first time in 2003 and 6,000 last year, the company has targeted export sales of 22,000 in 2006. In just four years time, IKCO will seek to sell 250,000, or 25 per cent of its output, in foreign markets.

IKCO has access to a special $20 billion government fund derived from oil revenues designed to stimulate Iranian exports. However Mirzaei said all of the foreign assembly plants will be operated as joint ventures, with its direct investment varying for each project.

"It depends on level of technology we transfer to each country," he said. "In Syria the plant will cost at least $80 million shared between Iran Khodro and its local partner." In Azerbaijan, the price of its new factory will cost between $5 million to $10 million.

In Iran, the company has recently established new departments to cast parts for the foreign markets and provide after-sales service.