Nissan Motor Company’s strategy to make its Rosslyn plant in Pretoria the light commercial vehicle (LCV) hub for its Africa operations is gaining further impetus, with assembly of semi-knocked-down kits of the new Navara pickup scheduled to commence in Ghana early next year.
The Navara kits will be exported from the Rosslyn plant to Ghana.
This follows Nissan recently appointing long-time partner Japan Motors Trading Company to develop its new vehicle assembly facility in Accra in Ghana after signing a memorandum with the government of Ghana in 2018 that laid the foundation for a sustainable automotive manufacturing industry in that country.
Volkswagen, Toyota, Isuzu and Hyundai have also invested in vehicle assembly operations in Ghana.
Mike Whitfield, MD of the Nissan Africa regional business unit and a director of sub-Saharan Africa, said last week the new Navara is being produced for Africa to optimise Nissan’s business in the continent.
Whitfield said the fully built up new Navara units will be exported from South Africa to most of the markets in Africa.
“We have structured Nissan Africa to focus on the transformation of where we are going in this market, with Nissan South Africa driving our strategy,” he said.
Nissan invested R3 billion in the Rosslyn plant for the production of the new Navara, with production commencing in August this year.
Nissan SA country director Kabelo Rabotho said this investment has been in new press machines, a new e-coating facility and paint shop, and in the development and training of its workforce, particularly as automation in the Rosslyn plant has increased from 11% to 25%, resulting in the need to manage this and improve the skills set in the plant.
Rabotho said this is the first time the Navara is being built on the African continent, adding that Nisan will continue to use this milestone to celebrate and achieve the future it sees in Africa.
“Africa is the last frontier and we will prioritise this area with products that are suitable to drive this transformation,” said Rabotho.
“We will also be focusing on technologies, including electrification, which is at the core of what we want to do and is also relevant to the African market.”
Whitfield said Nissan also owns a plant in Egypt and logically needs to look at establishing assembly operations in one of the East African markets, such as Kenya, Tanzania or Ethiopia, but this is dependent on which country “moves and comes with a sustainable policy”.
He stressed that disassembled knocked-down (DKD) new vehicle assembly is only the start of the vehicle production journey in a country.
“We are not going to build an industry on DKD. The industry has to transition to CKD [completely knocked-down production] and localisation of components,” he said.
Nigerian market has shrunk
Vehicle original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have experienced a setback in Nigeria, the biggest potential new vehicle market in Africa.
Whitfield said vehicle manufacturing in Nigeria has “virtually stopped” after the government failed to implement its automotive policy.
He said Nissan was an early mover into the Nigerian market eight years ago when the country had a new vehicle market of about 50 000 units a year.
But Whitfield said the new government that was elected in Nigeria did not fully implement the automotive policy in terms of the duties on used vehicles and other duty structures, which made the business case for assembly operations “very difficult”.
Whitfield said Nissan still assembles 100 to 150 vehicles a month in Nigeria from kits exported from the Rosslyn plant.
But he indicated that the progress being made in Ghana with its automotive policy has resulted in a renewal of discussions in Nigeria, which now has a market of only 10 000 new vehicles a year for a population of more than 200 million.
“We are negotiating with the Nigeria government to implement the policy. Nigeria is a central part of the automotive ecosystem in Africa,” he said.
Whitfield said Nissan is excited and has a strong focus on Africa because of the new vehicle sales projections for the continent.
“Africa has a population of 1.3 billion, an average GDP of 1.7% and a total new vehicle market of 1.3 million.
“India has the same population, with a GDP slightly higher at 2% and new vehicle sales of 4.4 million units.
“There are [fewer] vehicles owned in Africa than anywhere else in the world, with Africa accounting for 1.3% of the world’s vehicles but having 17% of the world’s population,” he said.
“Africa has a motorisation rate of 42 per 1 000 versus the global average 182 per 1 000.
“That is what drives us. The potential of Africa.”
Automotive Industry Export Council (AIEC) director Norman Lamprecht said earlier this year that three of every four SA-manufactured vehicles exported in 2020 were destined for Europe.
Lamprecht said Africa was the South African automotive industry’s second largest export region in 2020 with an export value of R29.6 billion, or 16.9% of the industry’s total export value.
The 2021 Automotive Export Manual revealed that South African vehicle exports to Africa totalled only 16 988 units in 2020 to account for only 6.3% of the total 271 288 vehicles exported by South African OEMs in the year.
Whitfield said the two largest new vehicle markets in Africa are South Africa with about 500 000 unit sales a year and Egypt with 300 000 sales.
He stressed that Nissan’s new vehicle sales drive in Africa is “not for today” but for the potential of this market, adding that the market in sub-Saharan Africa is currently small at between 70 000 and 80 000 units a year.
Whitfield said Nissan’s objective is to be the No 1 motoring brand in Africa, adding that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement signed earlier this year will help unleash the potential of the continent, with its combined GDP making Africa a formidable force in the world.