In a crowded parking lot in Benin, a West African country, Rokeeb Yaya looks at a 2008 Ford Escape for sale for $4,000.
Yaya went to the parking lot called Fifa, in the city of Cotonou, Benin’s economic center, because he wanted to trade his motorcycle for a car. He noticed the old red Ford Escape, because American cars are usually cheaper than other brands in the yard.
In the FIFA parking lot, hundreds of cars were parked in a long line. Some cars are shiny, look like new, others are full of dust and distortion. Yaya doesn’t care about the history of the car but only cares about having enough money to buy it or not.
Abdul Koura, used car salesman at FIFA parking lot, Cotonou city, Benin. Photo: CNN
The story of a Ford car in one of the largest car parks in the port city of Cotonou reflects a new trend, as vintage petrol cars from rich countries began to arrive in Africa, while other countries gradually evolved to electric vehicles.
The 14-year-old Ford Escape was brought to Benin from the United States last year after an auction. Records show the car had three owners in Virginia and Maryland, covered over 250,000 miles. The vehicle was recalled due to a power steering failure, but unlike some other vehicles on the same lot, it was never involved in an accident.
The used SUV is just one of millions of used cars that are shipped to West Africa every year from rich countries like Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States. Many end up in Benin, one of the world’s largest importers of used cars in Africa.
The wave of used cars to West African ports is expected to increase as many Western countries gradually switch to electric vehicles, with the aim of reducing emissions that cause climate change. But along with this process, gasoline cars do not suddenly disappear.
They are transported thousands of kilometers to developing countries like Benin, where the population grows along with the demand for cars. Countries argue that this situation will affect the climate and environment of those most vulnerable to the climate crisis and undermine efforts to reduce pollution, which causes global warming.
The used car market grew by almost 20% from 2015 to 2019, when 4.8 million units were exported. That trend slowed somewhat in 2020 due to Covid-19, but is accelerating again, according to Rob de Jong, a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) official.
The US exports 18% of the world’s used cars, according to UNEP data. These vehicles are shipped everywhere, to the Middle East and Central America, but most often to Nigeria, Benin and Ghana.
Some of the cars exported abroad are old, flooded or old, which are auctioned for disassembly of their parts. The rest are empty cars that American dealerships try to push away.
“Many of them are Hyundai and Toyota vehicles that have been around for two to five years,” said Dmitriy Shibarshin, director of marketing for West Coast Transportation, which specializes in international car deliveries. “These are the cheapest cars that are most imported into Africa.”
His company and many other units specialize in transporting used cars from developed countries to Africa. Shibarshin prefers luxury vehicles, but is also willing to transport low-cost vehicles.
In big countries like Kenya or Nigeria more than 90% of used cars and trucks come from abroad. In Kenya, where de Jong is headquartered, used car sales have doubled in eight years. He said that many roads that used to be very open now tend to have traffic jams.
The demand for used cars in Africa is huge. “The younger generation is getting richer,” said Etop Ipke, CEO of Autochek Africa, an online car buying and selling site. “The first thing they want to do when they have money is buy a car.”
However, unlike the US, very few people in Africa can get credit to buy a car. As a result, new cars are often out of reach.
“That’s basically why we can’t improve the quality of the cars we sell,” said Ipke. “It’s not that people want to drive a used car, it’s because they can’t afford a new car.”
Port of Cotonou, parking for many used cars imported from the United States and Europe. Photo: CNN
Experts say that demand for used cars could explode as the West gradually switches to electric cars, causing the supply of gasoline cars to increase and become cheaper. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that nearly a fifth of vehicles sold globally this year are electric, compared with less than 5% in 2020. China, Europe and the United States lead the market for electric vehicles.
In US states like New York or Florida, where customers are buying more electric vehicles, dealerships are increasingly selling used gas-powered models abroad, according to Matt Trapp, vice president of Manheim, a large automotive company. motorsport.
These states are also home to a thriving port trade, making them ideal for shipping used cars across Africa.
“I’m not surprised to see that used car exports are thriving,” Trapp said. “We’re going to see a more active market. When dealers see a need in foreign markets, they’ll find a way to ship used cars there.”
In a corner of the FIFA car park is an old Dodge Charger, manufactured 16 years ago. “We just sold it for $4,500,” said the unnamed seller, who said the car was imported from the US two years ago.
Next to him is a 24-year-old Ford Winstar, which was shipped from the United States to Benin last year. It is a suitable option for low-income people who cannot afford a higher-class car.
Abdul Koura, a used car salesman, said that importers love to import cars that have had accidents in the US and Canada. “They will fix it and sell it at a profit,” said Koura, who said there are more than 30 cars imported from Canada in the Fifa car park.
Victor Ojoh, a Nigerian used car salesman at the Fifa yard, said these old cars have some typical flaws. “Cars that emit a lot of smoke come mainly from the United States,” said Ojoh. “Canada’s vehicles are flooded and often have electrical system failures.”
Some vehicles lack emissions control equipment, which dealers disassemble to resell on the black market for about $100, Ojo said.
Millions of vehicles shipped from the US, Europe and Japan to Africa and Asia are “polluting or unsafe”, according to UNEP. “Often vehicles have faulty or missing parts, causing them to emit toxic fumes, increasing pollution and hampering efforts to combat climate change.”
A car that has been involved in an accident is being repaired in the Fifa yard. Photo: CNN
In 2020, Benin and 14 members of the African Economic Community agreed on a set of vehicle emissions rules in the region, which limit used car imports within 10 years, as well as vehicle carbon emissions regulations.
It is unclear how these regulations will be enforced. UNEP officials, including de Jong, discussed with US and EU officials the introduction of new regulations to prevent the shipment of used cars to developing countries. But discussions are at an early stage and have yet to result in any compromise.
De Jong believes that rich countries pushing old gas cars to developing countries will not help efforts to fight climate change. “Given the current situation of climate change, where emissions are not really important,” he said. “Whether it’s Washington or Lagos, it makes no difference.”
Ipke believes that Africa will not become a “dumping ground” for all the West’s old gas cars. The UK expects the transition to electric vehicles to hit the continent soon, although it will require significant improvements to charging infrastructure.
“The transition in Africa is not necessarily going from old cars to new petrol cars, but perhaps from old cars to electric cars,” he said. “I think Africa needs to be ready for electric vehicles, whether used or new, because that is the global trend.”
But for Yaya, those things are still far away. He went to the FIFA car park and decided to buy an old Ford Escape because he had no other choice. “I can only afford this,” he said.
Hong Hanh (according to CNN)