9 Feb 24

Why both Africa and the Middle East love Japan

For now, Japanese and Korean brands dominate the vehicle markets in Africa and the Middle East. But over the short to medium term, China is certain to exploit the region’s preference for Asian vehicles to its advantage. 

If we take the UAE as the reference for the wealthy Gulf states that make up most of the Middle Eastern car market, the results are quite remarkable. In the West, the Emirates may stand out for the one-of-a-kind ‘supercars’ that roar across Dubai, but the overall market is much more sensible. 

Entirely Asian

In Q1 2023, the Top 5 was entirely Asian. Toyota commanded more than 30% of the overall market, with fellow Japanese brand Nissan in second place, with about 18%. Korean brands Hyundai (4%) and Kia (3.5%) were placed third and fifth, with formerly British brand MG, now owned by SAIC from China, squeezing in in fourth place. 

For local experts, it’s no surprise why Japanese brands in particular are so popular in the UAE (and by extension across the Gulf Cooperation Countries). The Middle East has a harsh climate. That’s why regional drivers appreciate the reliability and durability of Japanese cars. This also explains the popularity of sturdy models like the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Toyota Hilux, the former and current most popular car models in the UAE, respectively. 

On top of that, Japanese cars are relatively cheap to acquire and maintain, also because of the abundance of spare parts and aftermarket options. All these positives result in a high residual value. 

Sturdy models

For similar reasons, Japanese brands also perform well in Africa – as do sturdy car models. The pickup truck is by far the preferred vehicle type across the continent. Toyota is market leader across the continent, with 15% of overall sales. Its Corolla has been popular in Africa since the 1980s. Its Hilux currently is the bestseller in more than 30 markets across the continent. Other popular pickups include the Isuzu KB and the Mitsubishi L200. 

It should be noted that the African market is even more lopsided than the Middle Eastern one. South Africa is by far the most mature and largest market in Africa, selling 40% of the continent’s total of 800,000 new vehicles per year – followed by Morocco with 18% and Egypt with 16%. Most other new vehicle markets, even in populous countries like Nigeria or Ethiopia, are relatively small. They rely more on imported used vehicles. 

Government mismanagement

While the automotive industry looks to Africa as a growth market, both in terms of production and consumption, some national car markets suffer from extreme government mismanagement. Algeria, for example, suffers from chronic vehicle shortages due to an import ban, imposed to favour the domestic car manufacturing industry – which is too small and weak to serve the country’s vehicle needs. 

With its domestic market near saturation, China is looking not just to Europe to export growing volumes of vehicles, but also to Africa and the Middle East. The EV focus of many Chinese OEMs may hamper expansion in Africa – for now, at least – but could be an extra selling point in the Middle East, always eager to embrace innovation. 

Image: Bob Adams, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

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Pictured: two Toyota Hilux cars in use by the South African police. The model is very popular in both Africa and the Middle East. 

Authored by: Frank Jacobs