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By Radomir Ralev
SOFIA (Bulgaria), April 23 (SeeNews) - With investor interest on the rise, Bulgaria's automotive industry is expected to generate 5% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, the CEO of Automotive Cluster Bulgaria, Lyubomir Stanislavov, told SeeNews.
"We established Automotive Cluster Bulgaria about five years ago and back then the automotive industry was generating less than 1% of the GDP. Now, its share stands at some 4.5% and is expected to reach 5% this year," Stanislavov told SeeNews on the sidelines of the SEE Automotive Conference held in Serbia's Novi Sad last week.
Automotive Cluster Bulgaria, a non-profit organisation which represents the interests of automotive manufacturers, suppliers and organisations providing services for the automotive industry, was established in July 2012, by eight sector players active in the country. The cluster currently has more than 130 members and the industry has about 40,000 employees in Bulgaria.
The results of the efforts of the governments of Bulgaria and Serbia to attract investors from the automotive sector are yet to come, Stanislavov said.
"Unfortunately, we are carrying out now the activity demonstrated by countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary some 15 years ago. The Bulgarian government has realised the potential of the sector and how it can increase the country's GDP."
In the past year or so, not a single door has closed before Automotive Cluster Bulgaria and the results will come, Stanislavov said.
NEW INVESTMENTS EXPECTED
Bulgaria is increasingly attracting the interest of foreign investors and the country has five or six possibilities to attract a large car manufacturer and interesting news is expected in the short term, Stanislavov said. "The question is how successful Bulgaria will be in the negotiations."
Bulgaria has its advantages when it comes to the automotive industry, as the expertise of the workforce makes the country a much more convenient place for production of car electronics or development of autonomous vehicle technologies than some of its neighbours in Southeast Europe (SEE), like Serbia or Romania, Stanislavov opined.
"Together with the government, we are developing projects for new industrial zones which will be convenient for the automotive industry."
The industrial zones are designed to satisfy the needs of all types of car companies, including Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), the CEO of Automotive Cluster Bulgaria said.
Industrial zones specifically designed for the needs of the automotive industry have not existed so far in Bulgaria and this is one of the reasons for the underdevelopment of the sector, according to Stanislavov.
One of the largest problems that the automotive companies face in Bulgaria is the lack of skilled workforce, which also is a problem in Serbia and Romania.
"We need more partnerships with technical schools and we are already active in that but unfortunately, we are about 10 years behind other countries."
The most important factor for the development of car industry in Bulgaria is the favourable economic climate, the overall good economic environment due to the 10% flat tax, the stability of the lev currency and the country's membership in the European Union, Stanislavov told SeeNews last year.
No passenger cars are currently manufactured in Bulgaria, as Chinese automaker Great Wall suspended assembling operations in the country in January 2016. The Great Wall car assembly plant near Lovech, in northern Bulgaria, opened in February 2012. Its output was sold in several neighbouring markets, including Romania, Macedonia and Serbia.