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Chinese Brands Could Soon Take Over From Japanese Brands As The Most Popular Vehicles In Africa — Here’s Why

Japanese brands have dominated brand new vehicle sales and used vehicle imports on the African continent for a long time. Toyota is the most loved brand on the continent. The Washington DC-based Brookings Institution report says consumers in Africa are brand conscious and brand loyal. When it comes to cars, that brand is Toyota!

In the brand new vehicle market, the Toyota Hilux is king in South Africa. The Hilux generally tops new vehicle sales across Africa. Other popular models in the new vehicle market are the Corolla and the Fortuner. Excluding Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, and Morocco where the importation of used vehicles is banned, the majority of vehicles brought to the continent are used vehicles. Toyota also tops the sales charts in the used vehicle import market. Other popular models in the used vehicle market that are imported mostly from Japan include the Corolla, Vitz, Belta, Passo, Fielder, Noah, Hiace, and the Crown. Models from Nissan, Mazda, and Honda are also popular on the continent.

Japanese brands like Toyota are popular because most people in Africa view them as affordable, reliable, and easy to maintain vehicles. But people are also now starting to appreciate Chinese brands on the ICE front. Let’s look at South Africa for example, which is the continent’s largest market for new vehicle sales. The Haval Jolion, from China’s Great Wall Motors stable, was the second highest selling vehicle in the crossover and SUV segment in South Africa last month. The Haval Jolion sold 708 units, just 111 less than the perennial favorite, the Toyota Fortuner. The Jolion has been getting some rave reviews in South Africa and in neighboring countries. When you look at its favorable price tag, it won’t be long before it takes top spot.

The fact that a Chinese model has rocketed to second place in one of the most popular vehicle segments in South Africa is very significant. It shows that consumers are beginning to trust these Chinese brands that are relatively new in this market.

Top Selling ICE SUVs & Crossovers in South Africa for June 2021

In the pickup segment in South Africa, the Hilux was also the top selling vehicle in June with 3,320 units. Great Wall’s P Series pickup made it into the top 5 as well with 387 units, and it should start climbing up the charts soon in South Africa’s very competitive pickup market.

Chinese brands will continue to increase their market share going forward, especially now that the transition to electric mobility is gathering momentum. That’s because Japanese automakers have been quite lethargic when it comes to electric vehicles. Honda has some pretty cool but expensive options, such as the Honda E. Late last year, Jennifer Sensiba wrote an interesting article summarizing some of Honda’s recent moves. In that article, she says “Honda has been making several utterly boneheaded moves when it comes to electric vehicles and plugin hybrids. It is missing important opportunities and doing strange things that hurt its image.” Nissan was once one of the leaders in the EV space in terms of EV sales when it brought out the first generation Nissan Leaf. The company has sold over 500,000 Leafs worldwide over the past 10 years. Nissan will start deliveries of the new Ariya in Japan later this year. Let’s hope it will go all out to push sales and make it available in many markets. Mazda has also been putting one leg in the water — perhaps we could call it putting in one toe to test the waters with one model, the Mazda MX-30. Then there is Toyota with its well-documented obsession for ICE vehicles and mild hybrids.

The slow pace of EV sales on the Japanese market also doesn’t help since it is the source of a lot of used vehicles that come to Africa. Just over 290,000 electric vehicles have been registered in total in Japan as of December 2020. Used Nissan Leafs have been the early entrants into the African used vehicle market, but with low EV sales in Japan, and also competing importers for used Nissan Leafs in places like New Zealand, there won’t be a lot of EVs to come from Japan. In contrast, there were over 190,000 registrations of plug-in vehicles in China in the month of May 2021 alone!

Although the numbers are still small, Chinese EVs are starting to find their way into some African markets via official partners bringing new EVs, and also independent dealers which are starting to import used Chinese EVs as well. In Zimbabwe, BYD Zimbabwe has started offering the T3 electric van as well as the new E6 with the Blade Battery. Meta Electric in Kenya is now also offering the BYD T3 electric Van. In Egypt, El Nasr Automotive has partnered with Dongfeng to produce electric vehicles locally, starting with the Nasr E70 sedan.

In Ghana, SolarTaxi Ghana wants to make sure a lot more full electric models are available to would-be buyers. They are now offering more than 15 models (yes, 15 different models of EVs) in Ghana which are available on a long term lease, rental, or outright purchase basis. Most of these are Chinese models, including the Xpeng G3. SolarTaxi’s range includes a selection of brand new and used Chinese EVs, catering to a wide range of customer price points.

Chinese automakers and new energy vehicle startups are pushing really hard on the EV front while Japanese automakers are still holding back and essentially playing a wait and see game. There will simply be more Chinese models available on the market very soon that are really really good and affordable for both new vehicle and used vehicle customers on the continent. The good thing is there is also an increasing amount of affordable small EVs with decent range being made in China right now. These will obviously be more attractive to young buyers in Africa’s growing first and second tier cities. Most of these buyers, who will be in the market for their first ever vehicle, usually go for used Japanese vehicles that are in the $6,000 to $14,000 price range. Now if they can have the option to get a brand new EV that is easier and cheaper to maintain and is in a similar price bracket with decent range, they will surely switch to a new EV. Some of these EVs are in a group of vehicles I like to call ICE Killers. Great Wall Motors, which already has a presence on the continent, should watch this market closely and bring in their “Cats,” that is  the Ora R1 (Black Cat), the Ora R2 (White Cat), the Good Cat and maybe even bring in the Punk Cat as well.

There are some really some good, affordable EVs now starting to show up consistently on the Chinese sales charts, such as the Changan Benni EV and the Leap Motor T03. We hope these firms scale up production and eye the export market soon. We also hope upgraded versions of the blockbuster Wuling Hongguang Mini EV will also be made available for the export market soon. While Japanese brands such as Honda are still dabbling in low production volume, expensive $38,000 small city EVs with a real world range that is less than 200 kilometers, Chinese NEV firms are now delivering similarly sized vehicles for the price of a used 5- to 7-year old ICE Honda Fit. It won’t be long before these small Chinese city EVs come to Africa either as new or used vehicles to disrupt the used ICE vehicle import market. This is a huge opportunity for some market creating innovation coupled with good financing models. Traditional brands and legacy OEMs will most likely ignore this market mostly because African nations have low levels of motorization and have traditionally had low new vehicle sales. New affordable models from Chinese brands will step in to take this market with their sub-$10,000 EVs.

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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