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Saudi women take the wheel

In this March 29, 2014, file photo, a woman drives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy a ban on women driving. The ban was recently lifted.

Companies race to woo prospective female drivers in the Middle East's biggest economy

Car companies haven't wasted any time courting the nine million potential customers unlocked when Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women drivers.

The decision has lit up social media, with both cheers and jeers for the ruling, which takes effect in June. Also joining the chorus are auto makers looking to capitalize on the move, racing each other to get their first words out to woo prospective female drivers in the Middle East's biggest economy.

From top down, tweets from Ford and Chevrolet after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female drivers.

In a Twitter post titled "Welcome to the driver's seat," Ford Motor Co. attached an image of a pair of woman's eyes appearing in a rear-view mirror against a black background. In another tweet under the hashtag #SaudiWomenCanDrive, it offered a "dream car" to a women's rights campaigner by putting up a picture of a bright yellow Mustang racing in a tunnel.

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Tata Motors Ltd.'s Land Rover and Jaguar brands posted an image of a handbag spilling out a car key, lipstick and a bottle of perfume among other items, with titles that say " Adventure awaits you" and "The road is yours."

Top: Nissan congratulates Saudi women. Bottom: The text on an image from Volkswagen reads ‘My Turn.’

Volkswagen AG published a black picture, placing the words "My turn" between two henna-tattooed fists. BMW AG's Mini went further, attaching a 11-second film showing a chestnut Cooper driving off a parking space with words painted in white that say " Reserved for Women."

Diversify economy

The move by King Salman bin Abdulaziz to issue driver's licenses to women is part of a larger effort to modernize and diversify the kingdom's economy and reduce its reliance on oil. The change may add about $90-billion to economic output by 2030, said Ziad Daoud, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Increased mobility means more women will be able to seek work, which could boost discretionary income. Opening up the auto market in the country of 32 million won't only boost demand for cars, but also for such related products as insurance, loans and billboard ads, which currently are barred from depicting women.

While sport utility vehicles have been a fixture on Saudi roadways, car makers may need to make more smaller models for single working women and female students, analysts say. On the flip side, ride-hailing services such as Uber Technologies Inc. could see decline drop as more women get behind the wheel.

A Saudi woman drives in Jeddah on Sept. 27, 2017.

For now, car companies are trying to capture the attention of their potential female drivers.

Japanese auto maker Toyota Motor Corp., whose vehicles made up 32 per cent of all those sold in Saudi Arabia last year, tweeted a picture of a female driver standing next to a shiny blue car. Its high-end Lexus brand published an image of a woman's finger on an ignition switch with its website and phone number underneath. "Share your choice with us?" it asks in Arabic.

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Nissan Motor Co., which is considering making cars in the kingdom like Toyota, published a number plate that's printed "2018" and "Girl" in Arabic, congratulating Saudi women who now have the "permission to drive."

With assistance from Vivian Nereim

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