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Used Kei Cars Now Popping Up In East & Southern Africa: Could This Help Influence Adoption Of Mini EVs?

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The Japanese market has a major influence on the automotive sector in East and Southern Africa. That’s because most of the countries in East and Southern Africa (excluding South Africa) allow the importation of used vehicles. Since the majority of these countries drive on the left hand side of the road just like Japan and the United Kingdom, those countries are the natural choices and source markets for used vehicle imports. Japanese imports dominate though, as these used vehicles tend to be much cheaper in Japan.

About 90% of the vehicles imported into this region are vehicles from Japan. Most of these vehicles are imported as used vehicles. Japanese brands rule in this part of Africa, and Toyota is king. Nissan and Mazda vehicles are also quite popular in this region. Hundreds of thousands of used Japanese vehicles are imported each year. There is an existing ecosystem and support structure for individuals or car dealers to import vehicles directly from Japan. Most of it is done online via digital platforms. The lower disposable incomes and lack of widespread vehicle financing solutions mean that for most families in this part of the continent, used vehicles are the only option, and the Japanese market therefore essentially dictates the trends in the region as the main source market.

Japanese OEMs have been focusing more on plug-less hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and these are now starting to find their way to the traditional African markets in large quantities, showing that the Japanese auto sector continues to dictate the market in a lot of countries in east and southern Africa. I carried out a survey recently where I went around asking most of my friends and colleagues in Zimbabwe and similar markets in the region which cars they had bought recently. I found that most of them recently acquired some of these HEVs from Japan. Some of the popular models that are now common on the streets are the Honda Fit HEV and the Toyota Aqua HEV.

It looks like another new trend is also growing, the adoption of Japanese Kei cars. Kei cars have been around for a long time and have been imported into the African markets sporadically. But it seems there is now a more prominent surge in imports of Kei cars. Perhaps this is being driven by the high cost of living in today’s world as rising inflation eats into people’s incomes. Consumers are tightening their belts and going for smaller and cheaper Kei cars that have a lower purchase price on the Japanese used car market and auctions, as well as the fact that Kei cars have small engine capacity. A lot of them have an engine capacity around 650cc, making them cheaper to fuel and operate in this environment of ever-increasing petrol prices.

These days, it’s now fairly common to spot small Daihatsus and Toyotas, models you never really used to see in places like Harare, Zimbabwe. One of the more common ones is the Toyota Pixis, a 658cc petrol car.

I recently spent some time in Nairobi and I got around using Uber’s Chap Chap service a lot. Uber’s Chap Chap service is predominantly used by driver partners that have small cars. This time, something was quite different. A lot of the Uber Chap Chaps I got were not just the usual small compact hatchbacks like the Toyota Passo, a popular vehicle in the subcompact car segment, but more in the Kei car segment. Every Uber driver I asked said they decided to go for these Kei car types as they have a small engine capacity and are cheaper to fuel and operate. Although small on the outside, they were surprisingly spacious for their size once you get inside. The small Kei cars are good enough for the daily trips up and down the city and the Uber drivers all seemed quite happy with their Kei cars.

A Suzuki Wagon R used in Uber’s Chap Chap service in Nairobi, Kenya.

This got me thinking — as families and Uber drivers in some of these cities start to “downgrade” from hatchbacks like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris to these Kei car types, perhaps if the small city EVs or 5-door mini EVs are introduced to this part of the world, they won’t look so outrageously small now as people start to get accustomed Kei cars in this part of the world. Perhaps electric Kei car minivans as well as the all-electric Nissan Sakura can be a hit in the near future once they come to this part of the world. Cars have been getting bigger and bigger over the past decade, and SUVs, crossovers, and large pickups have become more prominent, but it looks like the very small city and Kei car types could also be getting some attention in this part of the world.




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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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