Nissan has long recognized the promise of the enormous African car market. Now it seems the Japanese carmaker sees this potential being realised. Nissan has just streamlined its dispersed African arm into a single region – Nissan Africa. Operations, development and management will be based in Africa and operate on a continent-level scale.
The global Nissan Next drive will get an African-specific component, with a laser focus on the continent’s vast consumer population, a stronger focus on making cars for Africa in Africa, and growing African skills to do the work.
The timing and impetus of this move are not difficult to see. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into effect on 1 January this year – ironically the same day Brexit kicked in, weakening the European Union. AfCFTA, although still imperfect, can be compared to the EU in what it offers and how it does things.
Before AfCFTA, the continent consisted of over 50 countries, most of them underdeveloped, bound up in a toxic nest of self-interest, red tape, tariffs and other constraints to trade. AfCFTA is changing all this. It is creating the world’s largest trading block in terms of the number of countries, connecting 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion. AfCFTA will allow the free flow of goods and services in this block, with minimal or no restraints.
Take Ghana and its car industry as an example. Up to now, Ghana has been one of the African dumping grounds for nearly-dead second-hand cars from the rest of the world. Up to 70% of Ghana’s car imports were these ancient death-traps. In the run-up to AfCFTA, Ghana has banned the import of these clunkers and offered carmakers tax and other incentives to build cars in this West African country.
Nissan and Volkswagen are the first major players to take advantage of the Ghanaian opportunity, with Nissan opening its fourth African factory there, joining operations in Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa. Ghana’s economy is too small to sustain a car factory by itself, but now its large, young, well-educated workforce can build cars for the whole continent. Ghana’s story will be replicated across the continent because of AfCFTA.
If you build in Africa for Africa, you need Africans to do so. Apart from the thousands of African job opportunities thus created, Nissan has appointed 40-year veteran Mike Whitfield, ex-MD Nissan Egypt and South Africa, as Managing Director of the Africa operation, with Kabelo Rabotho as Country Director.
We will have to see how Nissan’s African initiative pans out and what new models it will bring to our market. At the moment the Rosslyn plant in Pretoria makes the NP200 and NP300 Hardbody bakkies, with the new Nissan Navara being added this year.