Japan’s Disappointing EV Sales Are Bad For Africa, & Here’s Why


Published on August 8th, 2020 |
by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

August 8th, 2020 by  

When it comes to the auto industry, the interaction between Japan and a lot of African countries is best described as some form of entanglement. Although they are separated by a large distance, it is hard to describe the state of a lot African countries independently of Japan. Japanese brands rule in Africa and Toyota is king.

Nissan and Mazda vehicles are also quite popular in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of used Japanese vehicles are imported into Africa each year. That’s because only a handful countries in Africa have outlawed the importation of used vehicles. These are Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, and Sudan. The rest have age restrictions on the maximum age of a vehicle that can be imported. These age caps range from 5 years to 10 years.

Some countries apply a penalty fee for vehicles that are over 10 years old. A few others have no age cap at all. Used vehicles are then able to land at prices that are more affordable for the large majority of the low to middle income consumers, resulting in the growth of used vehicles imports in some markets at rates of over 10 % per year.

All these imports have traditionally been ICE vehicles. Recently there has been an increase in the number of mild and full hybrids being brought into Africa by used car dealers because of the growing inventory of used hybrids in Japan.

Honda and Toyota have been promoting hybrids big time over the years. It is quite common to see models such as the Honda Fit & Insight hybrids as well as the Toyota Crown & Prius hybrids in a lot of African cities now. Toyota even went into overdrive with marketing its mild hybrids worldwide as “self-charging.” After several years of service in Japan, these hybrids that don’t have a plug are now finding a second home in Africa.

What the world really needs is a whole lot more full battery electric vehicles displacing petrol and diesel vehicles. The quickest way for Africa to join the revolution would be to utilize the established used vehicle ecosystem that is centered around Japan for the countries that drive on the left side of the road, which are the majority of countries in East and Southern Africa. For West African countries, they source most of their used vehicles from the US and Europe, and even in this case, Japanese brands still feature prominently on the list of imports into West Africa.

A potential bottleneck could come quite soon on the used EV supply side. Thanks to Japanese OEM’s love of mild hybrids and their quest to prolong the ICE age as long as possible, sales of EVs in Japan have been very disappointing. Sales have been so poor that the market share of EVs in Japan was recently just under 1%.

Used EVs are starting to appear in several African countries and you guessed it, these are mostly ex-Japanese vehicles. These vehicles are mostly used Nissan Leafs, and we have covered quite a bit of these developments featuring used Nissan Leafs in the stories below:

The Wright Family’s Nissan Leaf. All Images Courtesy of Brendan Wright

  1. It’s Happening! Car Dealers In Africa Are Starting To Stock More Used EVs
  2. Zimbabwe Family Shows That Even With 18-Hour Daily Grid Outages, Most People Could Live Comfortably With An EV
  3. Drivelectric Kenya Shows Why You Should Be Driving An Electric Vehicle in Kenya!
  4. VAYA Africa Launches VAYA Electric, Positions Itself For Growth Across Africa
  5. All Electric Taxi-Hailing Service Nopia Looks To Scale Up In Kenya

A Nissan AD 1 300 CC station wagon and a 2012 24 kWh Nissan Leaf used in Drivelectric Kenya’s ICE vs EV “fuel” cost comparison in Kenya over a 12-month period.

One of VAYA’s Nissan Leafs at the launch of VAYA ELECTRIC. Image courtesy of VAYA

As you can see, the Nissan Leaf has been featuring prominently as it is the one model that is readily available for Japan. That is a huge problem! The Nissan Leaf has sold just over 480,000 units since 2010, second only to the icon of electromobility, the Tesla Model 3, which has sold over 500,000 units. Most importers target the very early models from 2011 to 2014, which land in the respective countries at price tags between $9,000 to $16,000 depending on age, mileage, and battery condition.

Several countries, such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Ghana, import around 100,000 used ICE vehicles per year. Consumers are starting to notice more electric vehicles on the road and at used car dealerships. More consumers will start getting in on the action. Let’s just say in a couple of years used EVs start making up about 30% of vehicle imports. For every 500,000 imports from Japan, 150,000 of those would be Leafs, and we would soon start running out of Leafs to import since the sales of the Leaf in 2020 have been so low in Japan. All this would mean that we would run out of used Nissan Leafs very soon for the following reasons (ignoring scrapped/accident damaged vehicles):

  1. Not all 480,000 Leafs sold so far have been sold in Japan, significantly reducing the potential supply of vehicles. 
  2. Competition for the small pie from countries such as New Zealand that also allow used imports from Japan 
  3. Not all Leaf owners in Japan would sell their Leafs soon.

The United Kingdom is perhaps an alternative market where imports could be ramped up. The UK EV market is red hot right now.  Used EVs from the UK are generally more expensive for the same make, model, and year of manufacturer hence most used vehicle dealers prefer to import from Japan.

Another option could be working with the plethora of Chinese new energy vehicle manufacturers to substitute traditional used vehicle imports with brand new cheap Chinese models. This would need some bit of marketing though, as African consumers lover their Japanese brands a bit too much. We recently looked at how driving electric is cheaper than driving ICE vehicles in Africa in part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Africa’s low levels of motorization presents a unique opportunity to leapfrog into the world of electromobility

Image Caption: One of Nopia’s Nissan Leafs charging at the Hub Mall, Karen, Nairobi: Picture by Remeredzai Kuhudzai

One of Nopia’s Nissan Leafs charging at the Hub Mall, Karen, Nairobi: Picture by Remeredzai Kuhudzai

Featured Image: Nissan Leafs at the Launch of NopeaRide’s Thika Road Mall Charging Station, Thika Road, Nairobi. Pictures by Remeredzai Kuhudzai 
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About the Author

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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