Published on 22 Jul 2021

Automotive industry in Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa is a large market for hand-me-down automobiles. So what does the future of auto manufacturing here look like?

by Johan Burger

White sedans being assembled in a factory.

Africa has a population of about 1.3bn people (17.5% of the world's population), but produces only 1% of the world's automobiles. In contrast, China, also with a population of about 1.3bn, produces almost 30%. Most of the cars bought and sold in Africa are used and imported. Indeed, it has become something of a ‘dumping ground’ for used foreign vehicles. But more Africans are buying vehicles than ever before and that makes it an attractive market for automobile manufacturing. In 2014, there were just over 42.5 million registered vehicles in use in Africa. The following year approximately 1.55 million new vehicles were sold or registered across the continent.[1] South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco have a thriving auto manufacturing sector. Together they account for approximately 80% of the total new vehicles sold in Africa. According to Deloitte passenger vehicle sales could hit 10 million units per annum within the next 12 years. There is therefore an opportunity for investors to benefit from the relatively untapped potential of the automobile sector in Africa. 

Some countries, such as Kenya and Ghana have actively adopted policies to grow the level of contribution. Many other African governments are encouraging global automakers to set up assembly plant operations in their new special economic zones. 


  • Ford recently announced a US$1bn investment in its operations in South Africa. In addition to adding 1,200 direct jobs, the investment would also create 10 000 new jobs across Ford’s local supplier network.

  • Entrepreneurs, SMEs, and large corporations can all tap into the massive opportunities to take the local value and supply chains, produce the vehicles where the consumers are and generate export revenues as well. Considering that 70% of a car’s parts are built by outside suppliers, the potential for industrialisation, job creation, and economic development are clear. With more meaningful jobs, the living standards of the local populations increase, which in turn leads to higher levels of consumption and creates a market for higher-level goods such as cars. Investment in Africa’s vehicle manufacturing sector therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.[2]

  • In Uganda, Kiira Motors recently launched a new diesel bus model - the Kayoola. This was a major step in the growth of the country’s domestic auto-manufacturing sector. The firm is assembling the cars in partners with the China Hi Tech Corporation (CTHC). However, until local firms can acquire the technical knowhow and economies of scale, Uganda may have to contend with producing such buses as a contract manufacturer. Kiira also makes the Kayoola EVS, which designed for the local conditions which lack charging facilties. Kiira’s factory at Jinja will initially produce 5,000 vehicles annually.[3]
  • Africa is beginning to see emergence of local brands like Kiira Motors. Innoson was the first made-in-Africa automobile brand and is now one of the largest car manufacturers on the continent. It has rolled out more than 10,000 SUVs and sedan cars from its plant in Nnewi, Nigeria. Another Nigerian carmaker Nord is producing vehicles for commercial as well as the private-use market. From its assembly plant in Lagos Nord produces sedan, SUV, mini-bus and pickups.    Wallyscar manufactures a range of small sports SUVs in Tunisia. It was set up by brothers Omar and Zeid Guiga in 2006. The firm sells only 300-600 units a year. aspires to expand beyond Nigeria’s  borders as a designer and assembler of premium cars at “relatively competitive prices.”[4] The emergence of local car brands is a signal that automobile manufacturing can happen in Africa even if it from a low base.


Korean automotive giants Hyundai, and Kia are expected to start assembling cars by the end of 2022. Their decision to set up an assembly plant is seen as a success of the Ghana Automotive Development Program, which aims to attract more international carmakers to set up manufacturing units in the country. The Koreans are only the more recent ones to set up an assembly plant in the country. Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Sinotruck already have production facilities in the country.

Chinese automaker Zonda Tec has so far invested more than US$10m in the construction of its auto assembly plant and a training school in Tema under the government’s One District One Factory (1D1F) initiative.

Ghana is competing with Nigeria to become an auto-manufacturing hub in West Africa.  According to the government automobile manufacturing has the potential to create 3,600 direct and indirect jobs in Ghana. The addition of components and parts manufacturing could add 6,600 more jobs.[5]


  • Investments in the automobile sector of Africa have a significant leverage affect, not only creating direct jobs in the main manufacturing plants, but in the upstream and downstream supply chains as well. Ghana is politically and economically stable with strong growth potential. So it is an attractive investment destination for potential investors. The potential for growth in the automobile sector throughout the value chain is significant. The number of corporations that are involved in Africa’s auto sector has increased considerably over the past few years.


South Africa is adopting a localisation strategy to jump start its economic recovery. But this import substitution strategy has received a mixed response from economists and business. During the height of apartheid South Africa adopted an aggressive industrialisation plan that actively promoted self-reliance. Faced with international sanctions South African firms often had to rely on local supply chains to meet their input needs. It made them innovative but often uncompetitive. A protected domestic market also skewed prices and made manufacturers complacent. The government believes local firms have the capacity to substitute 20% of their non-petroleum goods imports with locally produced materials within five years. A survey found that goods-producing companies could immediately substitute 12.6% of imports, with an increase to 32.3% after five years. Some, however, remain sceptical and worry about capacity, price, and the impact the import substitution policy may have on the quality of products. South African manufacturers have been struggling with electricity brownouts and stiff labour regulations.

According to Business Leadership SA (BLSA) chief executive Busi Mavuso, the business sector must ensure localisation efforts create jobs and do not lead to increased prices in commodities manufactured locally.[6]


Additional Readings

Africa Auto News. 2021. Nord to boost Nigeria’s auto industry with locally made vehicles. Africa Automotive News. 14 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 June 2021.

PH. 2021. Automobile giants Hyundai, Kia to establish assembly plants in Ghana. How Africa. April 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 June 2021.

Tan, C. 2020. Carmaking returns to Singapore with new smart plant in Jurong. The Straits Times. 14 October 2020. Available at  Accessed 22 June 2021.

Vanmali, D. 2021. Opinion: Sub-Saharan Africa an automotive juggernaut? Watch this space. Fin24. 22 March 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 June 2021.

Wakabi, M. 2021. Diesel-powered bus for long runs rolls off Kiira Motors assembly line. The East African. 16 February 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 June 2021.

Dludla, S. 2021. South African manufacturing companies rally to localisation call. IOL. 18 May 2021. Available at  Accessed 21 August 2021.

PH. 2021. Automobile giants Hyundai, Kia to establish assembly plants in Ghana. How Africa. 22 April 2021. Available at  Accessed 21 August 2021.



[1] Deloitte

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