The author, Richard Li, is a Singapore-based partner with Steel Advisory Partners, a management consulting firm that serves clients across industries. This article was produced for the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation.
In 2000, the overall African gross domestic product (GDP) was US$616bn. Since then, the continent has enjoyed a period of high economic growth and its GDP has risen massively by 245% to reach $2.1tn in 2016. Moreover, the World Bank recently started classifying countries according to their gross national income (GNI) and there are in fact 25 African countries that are in the middle income category in 2016.
To further sustain economic growth in Africa, there is a significant need for the transportation of goods and people. This means that there will be an accelerating demand for automotive vehicles in Africa, particularly in those middle-income countries that have a huge population mass, as well as a relatively high growth rate.
Africa, the last frontier market for automotive
According to the International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, there are only 44.8 million vehicles in Africa, representing only 3.5% of the global market. For Africa, with its population of about 1.2 billion, there were only 42 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants in 2015. Compared to the global average, Africa is about 4.3 times less. This signals that there is an immense upside for market penetration in the automotive sector. Moreover, between 2014 and 2015, the automotive market in Africa grew at a relatively fast pace of 5.8%, compared to 1.9% and 2.4% for Europe and the United States respectively.
In terms of sales, in 2016, there were about 1.3 million vehicles sold in Africa, representing only 1.4% of the global market. The market is mainly dominated by two regions – Northern Africa and South Africa – with an 85% market share. South Africa sold about 547,000 vehicles, whereas for the Maghreb countries – Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia – together with Egypt, 575,000 vehicles were sold.
As for manufacturing capabilities,there is a lot of room for improvement, since Africa produces slightly less than 1% of all the vehicles in the world. Although South Africa has the biggest production capability with nearly 600,000 vehicles produced in 2016, manufacturing is stalling and is on a decline. Morocco is next with a capacity for 345,000 vehicles. These two countries represent about 91% of all vehicles manufactured in Africa. With increasing demand in other parts of Africa and with only small assembly facilities elsewhere, there are indeed many potential opportunities for automotive companies to further tap.
Challenges faced by the automotive sector
Africa is definitely not an easy market to deal with. The continent is not only geographically vast, but it is also a very fragmented market with 54 independent countries, each with their own market characteristics. In addition, since many African countries are still in the process of development, there is a dire lack of clarity in terms of soft infrastructure, such as proper regulatory frameworks, as well as economic policies for the development of industries.
The automotive sector is a capital-intensive industry that requires a long cycle for its development and for returns on its initial investments. On top of that, the captive market within specific countries may be too small to justify large-scale production facilities. Besides the lack of clear guidelines to attract investors in the automotive sector, the political instability in many African countries increases risk, thereby stifling and eventually halting the development of automotive manufacturing.
South Africa was the only African country that had been able to realise all the conditions needed for manufacturing automotive vehicles. With its population of nearly 56 million and a GNI per capita of $5,480, South Africa is the biggest automotive market in Africa – in terms of both production and sales of new vehicles. However, the recent political instability in South Africa is making global automotive companies think twice about whether they should invest further in the country. As a result of this inertia to reform and stimulate this sector, automotive companies may decelerate their future development plans there.
The Maghreb countries leading the way
The three Maghreb countries – Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia – are progressively focusing on boosting their automotive sector. Morocco has been the most successful, attracting French car manufacturers with the development of special industrial and economic zones. Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën have committed €1.6bn ($1.9bn) and €600m ($705.7m) for their own production facilities respectively.
The Moroccan government is definitely steering the automotive industry in the right direction with the necessary framework and conducive environment needed for its development within the country. Morocco is pushing hard for the industry to rally further, aiming to produce one million vehicles by 2020. By then, its automotive exports will represent $10bn worth of vehicles to Europe and other parts of Africa. This sector will eventually represent 20% of the Moroccan GDP and create 160,000 jobs locally.
Algeria and Tunisia are also locations where French car manufacturers are setting up assembly plants. Germany’s Volkswagen is opening its plant in Algeria as well. With their close proximity to Europe, coupled with the right incentives and regulatory framework, European car manufacturers are finding it very appealing to be in these countries. Moreover, with a captive market of more than 87 million people among these three countries, selling locally helps to justify the necessary investments as well.
Potential opportunities in Africa
Africa can offer great opportunities to automotive companies, since more countries are slowly but steadily becoming more affluent. According to data from the World Bank, there were 12 countries in 2000 that might be considered as middle-income countries. Nowadays there are 25 middle-income countries across the continent. This represents a potential market size of approximately 656 million people. From 2006 until 2016, some of the countries that have significantly raised their GNI per capita are Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and Ghana, with an increase of 267%, 188%, 166%, 134% and 130% respectively.
Besides South Africa, the other top five most-attractive middle-income countries that have big populations, are Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria. These are probably the most promising markets since they have a combined population size of about 462 million, with a significant percentage being able to afford their own vehicles. The automotive industry can potentially crank and rev the growth engine of these countries further.
The African marketplace is gradually looking more attractive with the continent potentially being able to absorb many more vehicles than what it does currently. However, there are many obstacles that first need to be overcome. And African governments have to be committed to provide the right conditions for the automotive sector to flourish within their countries. With the right framework, this industry can not only be lucrative for the automotive companies, but at the same time, it can turbocharge the economic growth of African countries.
Richard Li is a Singapore-based Partner with Steel Advisory Partners, a management consulting firm that serves clients across industries. Having spent his working career in strategy consulting, he worked with various global clients and covers themes such as Corporate Strategy, Transformation, Digital Innovation and Risk Management. He can be contacted via the Steel Advisory Partners site. This article was specifically written for the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies.