Are Africa’s Used Car Import Bans Effective?

esearch from academics at universities in Ghana and Rwanda released in June 2021 highlighted the non-effect of used car import bans (and other restrictions) in some African countries. They are having no effect on increasing new car sales. More work needs to be done, say the researchers, to stop lethal imports and reduce the Continent’s worsening pollution.

busy street in Nairobi, courtesy of Shutterstock.

The fleet and mobility markets in Africa were discussed at the Global Fleet Conference. You can source all of the live sessions and regional streams here.

The findings show that used vehicle imports continue to increase in Nigeria and Libya. The age restriction and ban on used vehicles has not resulted in an increase in new vehicle sales, as many policymakers had hoped.

Research findings:

  • An outright ban or restrictions on used vehicle imports in several African countries may have reduced the number of very old cars by a small margin but it has done nothing to increase new car sales.
  • While there was a drop in value of 8.6% of used vehicle imports in 2019, new vehicle sales also dropped by 6%.
  • In Nigeria and Libya, quantities of used vehicle imports increased by 12% and 109% respectively in 2019.
  • Only eight African countries regulate vehicle standards but few are implemented.
  • It is not mandatory for vehicles to pass emissions test in the majority of African countries.

Dangerous pollution levels

Researchers, led by Dr GK Ayetor from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, found that although mortality rates from outdoor pollution in Africa have increased by 57% over three decades (250,000 between 1990 – 2013), at least 85% of Africa’s vehicle fleet is comprised of used vehicles.

95% of vehicles on the roads in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda are old. About 25 countries in Africa place maximum age limits on used vehicles, four countries (including South Africa, Egypt, Sudan and Seychelles) have completely banned used vehicle imports and 10 countries have banned the import of vehicles over five years old.

Difficulty in adopting and implementing vehicles standards

The difference in enforcement and testing of vehicle standards across the world have made it difficult for Africa to adopt a unified policy. However, this has become increasingly necessary, with the introduction of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which should facilitate free trade of vehicles across the region. At present, African countries are at various stages of adopting vehicle standards. The African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), has initiated the development of a regulatory framework for Africa’s automotive sector. But the low quality of fuel, restricted purchasing power of consumers, and lack of available data, make achieving a unified standard a daunting task.

Dealing with dirty fuel

Vehicle pollution, however, cannot be solely blamed on used vehicles. The Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), in their research of fuel quality in Nigeria, found that Sulfur levels of imported fuels were 204 times above what modern vehicle emission reduction technologies can handle. They reported that these fuels were being imported from Europe – including the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Ironically in 2016, five West African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Bénin, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire) banned the import of dirty fuel from Europe after reports that fuels containing 300 times the amount of permitted sulphur were coming from Europe.

Vehicle regulations in Africa

The need for African countries to adopt vehicle regulations is now being taken seriously. African countries and their regional bodies are at various stages of adopting them. The current practice is for individual countries to publish their regulations (as is the case in South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Algeria) while some are being adopted at regional levels.

The lack of domestic production

African governments have been unsuccessful in attracting manufacturers to invest in assembly plants. Partly because the demand for new vehicles has been negligible, so far. There’s also a lack of suppliers, distributors, and component manufacturers.

New forms of mobility and transport (such as ride-hailing, car clubs, car sharing schemes, short-term rental programmes, vehicle subscription models) are attractive to users and demand new, reliable, economic and non-polluting vehicles. Such schemes are also offering new employment and business opportunities for Africans. Could mobility be the catalyst to kick-start the marketing for new cars in Africa?

What can be done?

Meanwhile, Dr Ayeter and his team conclude that a ban on used vehicles is unsustainable. The focus should be on implementing UNECE standards. In 5-to-10 years, it will be pointless to ban used vehicles since all those imported from outside Africa will be Euro 6 compliant and safer. Attention should be paid to fuel quality. To increase production and sale of new vehicles, governments should focus on reducing the margin between used and new.

Limited purchasing power and high lending rates make it impossible for even middle‐income earners to purchase new cars. Africa needs more of its vehicles produced within the continent, with each member country being part of the assembly chain. Rich in raw materials and human resources, Africa should be utilised to shift assembly to component manufacturing that will create jobs and reduce the cost of vehicles. Public and private motor fleet operators in Africa should adopt the Global NCAP fleet safety guidelines rating of at least four stars. Annual safety ratings should be conducted for entry‐level vehicles to create awareness among consumers of safety ratings.

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