The Ethiopian new car market has transformed completely since we last covered it on BSCB in March 2012, helped by an annual GDP growth rate stuck at 7% for the past 5 years and for the foreseeable future as well. Local assembler Holland Car filed for bankruptcy last year with its director fleeing the country, Hyundai has officially landed with famous athlete Haile Gebreselassie as its ambassador, investor and sole importer and last March it was announced that the first electric car assembly plant in Africa would be built in the country starting in September 2015. A handful of Chinese carmakers are assembling locally, however grandiose plans of becoming a car manufacturing hub for the region and Africa announced 3 years ago seemed to have faltered somewhat. Let’s explore Ethiopia once more…
On top of Chinese Lifan, Geely and BYD, Ukrainian carmaker ZAZ started the CKD assembly of Forza, Vida, Chance and Sens made in Ethiopia on May 21 under the brand name Nigma Motors. The cars are priced between US$ 15,700-24.000. Expensive? Not in Ethiopia as we’ll see further down. For now it seems only Lifan is achieving significant Ethiopian assembly numbers – an estimated 2.000 cars annually or 80% of the country’s entire production – after having acquired the factory of its original partner but now defunct Holland Car. Its 520 sedan and X60 SUV (launched in May 2012) seem to have been relatively well received, however when Lifan claims it sold 1.200 new cars in Ethiopia during the fiscal year 2012/2013, it somehow doesn’t match my observations online.
Why are so many companies assembling cars in Ethiopia? Part of it stems from the fact that being landlocked, it has to import all its cars from the port of Djibouti, and although taxes have been reduced, they can still rise up to over 100% of the purchase value the transportation costs. The solution is simple: import spare parts (taxed less), from China for example, and assemble them in a factory with relatively cheap labour. Although a simple strategy, it’s a relatively unique situation on the African continent. The Reporter Ethiopia gives us the result: a brand new Lifan 520 assembled locally is priced at 288.000 birr (US$14.000), the equivalent of a bruised and battered 1989 Toyota Corolla originally from Japan. Despite this challenging situation, one thing hasn’t changed in Addis Ababa: the car parc is still overwhelmingly composed of used imports from Japan: all generations of Toyota Corolla starting in 1984, Vitz, Hiace and Vios being the most popular, and among them an interesting string of 1970s Lada taxis and a few Tofas Safin from Turkey.
All this activity and yet reliable car sales data is still nowhere to be found. According to Allafrica.com, the number of cars (new and used) imported in Ethiopia in 2010/11 was 21,412, up to 23,414 in 2011/12, 30,128 in 2012/13 and an estimated 35.500 in 2013/14, citing the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) with the major sources being Dubai and China. This doesn’t really add up as Chinese cars are almost inexistent on the streets of Addis Ababa, and the only one we see are assembled locally. Another source, the Federal Transport Authority, said Ethiopia imported just 1.008 cars in 2009/10 and 1,940 in 2010/11. Is that just new cars? Impossible to know. Overall I estimate the new car market in Ethiopia at a meagre 3.000 units for 2014.
The safe bet would be to crown the Toyota Hilux like in over 30 African countries, however if the new car market is growing as fast as the city and the country’s economy, it means more affordable cars should start to find their way up the sales charts and the Toyota Avanza could lead given the frequency of its last generation in the streets of Addis Ababa. In any case, both the Hilux and the Avanza are coming straight from Dubai from where they would have been re-exported as new. Re-export in the Gulf area is a well-known (if not documented) phenomenon, but until now I was only aware of it towards Iraq, Iran and Yemen. The Ford Ranger pickup is also very popular, as is the Toyota Hiace but for that model it’s almost impossible to distinguish the ones purchased as new and the 2-3 year-old used ones imported from Japan via Dubai.
Finally, a sign of the diversification and maturation of the new vehicle market in Ethiopia: the Ford Ecosport, Hyundai Grand i10 and new gen Kia Picanto are all present in Addis Ababa. And that’s as much as it is reasonable to report on Ethiopia on here without making wild assumptions. If you have access to more accurate and/or detailed information about the Ethiopian new car market please ensure to get in touch by commenting on this article and entering your email address (it will not appear in the comment) for us to join you.