This week, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a decree to lift the ban on women driving in the country - Technical Review Middle East managing editor, Georgia Lewis, looks at what this might mean for multiple sectors in the kingdom
A ministerial body will be set up to give advice and the royal order will be implemented by 24 June, 2018. Saudi Arabia's US ambassador, Prince Khaled bin Salman confirmed that women would not be required to get male guardian permission to take driving lessons and would not be limited as to where they will be able to drive.
As well as the obvious opportunities in the kingdom for all-woman driving instruction businesses to comply with the country's strict culture of gender segregation, extending the right to drive among women could create opportunities for other sectors.
If the right to drive for women extends beyond cars and into heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses, companies may expand heavy vehicle fleets if there are opportunities to hire women as drivers. Big players, such as Volvo Trucks and Mercedes-Benz, will no doubt be watching developments in this regard with interest. In June this year, Saudi Arabia acquired 242 MAN buses to meet public transport demand. If women are allowed behind the wheel of buses, the potential exists to expand public transport to women-only services.
In Bedouin areas of the kingdom, women have been driving trucks on rural roads without hindrance for many years already.
Car manufacturers may sense opportunities in Saudi Arabia with an expanded market. In March, a spokesperson for Toyota announced that the Japanese automaker has been studying the feasibility of local production in the kingdom. Hyundai and Nissan have also been in talks in regard to opening plants in Saudi Arabia, according to a report in June by Al-Awsat.
Looking ahead, the inevitable increase in cars on the road as a result of lifting the driving ban is likely to put a strain on Saudi Arabian road networks. Saudi Arabia is already investing heavily in improved road infrastructure, such as Saudi Arabia-Bahrain causeway project, and increased volumes of traffic could put the impetus on the government to further develop road networks across the country. More road projects would, in turn, offer opportunities for contractors, co-investors and developers.