VIENNA – Chinese automakers used the period of international sanctions against Iran to establish themselves in the country with the help of local assemblers.

With about 48,600 cars assembled this year through June, Chinese cars accounted for 9.75% of Iran’s total car output, a sixfold increase from just 1.6% in 2011.

With the lifting of sanctions against Iran in exchange for curtailing its nuclear program, a deal still awaiting ratification by the U.S. Senate, Chinese automakers will face more competition as other foreign companies step up production in the country, increase imports, or both.

The Chinese automakers improved their position in Iran with new and affordable models when many imported cars were too expensive and some foreign brands were not available.

“Most of the clients who were planning to buy Chinese cars have abandoned their plans and are waiting to see at what rates the European cars will be offered to the Iranian market and whether they can afford them,” Iran’s Mehr news agency reports.

Chinese cars still have a price advantage over their European rivals in terms of prices, but many Iranian consumers think Chinese products are low quality.

Recently an Iranian television station asked its viewers an intriguing question: If Iranian automakers are looking for foreign partners, companies from which of the following countries should be given priority: Germany, China, Japan, Korea or France?

About 64% of those surveyed said they would prefer Germany as a business partner for Iran’s automotive industry, followed by Japan (16.9%), Korea (7.1%), France (6.3%) and China (5.7%).