1. Is there much of a car culture in Israel?
Israel is a country with a fairly poorly developed car culture because car ownership on a massive scale is really only something that began with the spike in economic growth in the mid to late 90s. Since then, a culture of company cars being a common perk and very high import tariffs have made it difficult for people to use their cars to express themselves. In addition, because private car ownership was so uncommon for most of the country’s development, as well as the tiny size of the country as a whole, public transit in Israel is very well-developed and makes it easy for many to get by without driving much.
2. What brands/models are popular over there?
Currently popular brands are Hyundai, Mazda, Subaru, Suzuki, and Renault. There are a great many more popular makes in Israel, but buying patterns trend towards superminis and compacts. Historically, Mazda and Subaru were far and away the most popular brands because they decided that they could target the Israeli market despite the Arab boycott on companies that did business with the Jewish state. Also, American market models have historically been viewed as prestigious if not luxurious. You can see a greater array of USDM models in Israel than most European car markets because of this.
3. How much do new cars cost over there? Is there a high tariff?
I don’t know the specific tariff formula, but for most private buyers the tariff is more or less 100%. There are exceptions for some pickup truck models and certain “green” vehicles but I don’t know the specifics.
4. Are any cars currently manufactured/assembled there?
Right now there are no private car models manufactured in Israel, but the Tomcar ATV is made in Israel and AIL, or Automotive Industries Limited, builds a version of the Jeep J8 for the IDF. They actually pioneered the four door Wrangler in the early ‘90s. In the past, a factory in Haifa built a number of Kaiser and Studebaker models in addition to the Hino Contessa. After that, a series of Israeli companies built fiberglass cars with British underpinnings under the names Susita and Carmel but both projects eventually failed.
5. Is there a stigma to owning a German car?
The stigma has more or less subsided, but earlier in the history of the state most officials were driven in American cars or Volvos rather than the quintessential German luxury sedans.
6. What do executives and high ranking government officials ride in?
As of now, ministers receive Audi A6s and the Prime Minister is driven in a set of armored A8L W12s. Lower members of parliament get either Volvos or Skodas, I think.
7. How easy is it to drive between Israel and the West Bank/Gaza with Israeli/Palestinian plates?
It is fairly easy for Israeli citizens (with yellow license plates) to drive into the West Bank, but mostly only to Jewish settlements. Palestinians with white and green license plates are unable to leave the West Bank with their vehicles for the most part, and access to Gaza is more or less forbidden to all Israelis.
8. How easy is it to drive to other neighboring countries with Israeli plates?
You can take a car out of Israel to Egypt and Jordan, but there is actually a scheme where you replace your Israeli plates with local ones for the time you spend there. Very rarely you can see a car with Jordanian plates in Israel. Still, foreign plates are an extremely rare sight in Israel. Every once in a while you might see a truck with Turkish plates that was brought on a RoRo ship to Haifa and is bound for either Jordan or the agricultural parts of the country, but nothing much besides that. Interestingly, though, many Israeli used cars find their way to markets in the Gulf via Jordan.
9. Anything about cars in Israel that would surprise Americans?
10. Why do you love cars?
Cars tell you a great deal about a culture, an economy, a people. The way people drive is as much a cultural indicator as the way someone talks, walks, or writes.