Kenyans’ love for used cars, mitumba hit local industries

Textile and automotive industry among the hard hit.

In Summary

•Kenya Motor Industry Association data shows the 11 major dealers in the country sold a total of 850 new vehicles (zero mileage) in the month of February.

•While this was a 50.9 per cent increase from 563 units sold in January, it falls far below the average monthly imports of between 8,000 and 12,000 on second-hand cars.

Imported used cars at a yard in Mombasa/
Imported used cars at a yard in Mombasa/
Image: FILE

Kenyans' undying love for second-hand things is seen as a major challenge to the growth of local industries, as the government and private sector continue to sink billions in industrialisation agendas.

Secondhand clothing (mitumba), footwear and accessories have continued to fill up the wardrobes of many Kenyans.

According to Trade and Industry PS Juma Mukhwana, the country spends at least Sh400 billion annually on mitumba imports, despite the ability to produce quality clothing and footwear products, backed by the huge cotton and textile industry potential.

In a renewed effort, the government is pushing to revive the country's textile industry, cut imports in favour of exports, create jobs and grow the economy.

“His Excellency the President has been very clear that Kenyans need to purchase our own locally made clothes through  ‘Buy Kenya, Built Kenya,” Mukhwana said during a forum in Bungoma last Thursday.

China is Kenya's top import source for mitumbas according to the United Nations, followed by Pakistan, Canada, the UK, the US, Poland, UAE, Germany, and India with the Republic of Korea closing the top ten list.

Other markets are Oman, Australia, Netherlands, Hungary, Malaysia, Italy, Lithuania, Ireland, Belgium and Hong Kong.

The Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya (MCAK) has however come out to defend the sector, arguing that it is a key job creator and revenue generator to the exchequer.

ex-UK shops in major towns and estates are also fast growing especially in Nairobi, bringing in used housewares, bicycles, toys, and furniture among other products.

This trend has had a significant impact on local industries with the textile and automotive sectors among the most hit, as Kenya’s manufacturing sector remains subdued.

The sector’s growth slowed down to 2.7 per cent in 2022 compared to 7.3 per cent in 2021, the Economic Survey 2023 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicates.

This paints a frizzy picture for the sector whose players, and the government have set an ambitious target of having it contribute up to 20 per cent to the economy by 2030, and create at least one million jobs annually.

In the automotive industries, dealers in new vehicles are struggling to push units out of showrooms across the country, amid a low purchasing power with most now going big on asset financing with banks.

The latest industry data by the Kenya Motor Industry Association (KMIA) shows the 11 major dealers in the country sold a total of 850 new vehicles (zero mileage) in February.

While this was a 50.9 per cent increase from 563 units sold in January, it falls far below the average monthly imports of between 8,000 and 12,000 on second-hand cars.

The majority of the new cars are also imported Completely Knocked Down cars assembled locally.

These are vehicles that are shipped in parts and assembled at the dealership or factory, meaning the country is still far from becoming an automaker.

Second-hand cars are also cheaper, averaging between Sh800,000 and Sh1.5 million for the low-capacity units, compared to new cars whose starting price is about Sh2.5 million.

According to the Car Importers Association of Kenya (CIAK), locally assembled units are expensive by more than Sh600,000, compared to imported used cars where some are even more superior than the new ones.

This has seen Kenyans continue to prefer imported units mainly from Japan which is the source of up to 80 per cent of these vehicles. Other sources are UAE, UK, Singapore and South Africa. 

“As we have always said and will say it again, locally assembled cars are more expensive and beyond many Kenyan’s reach,” CIAK national chairman Peter Otieno told the Star during an interview.

Isuzu East Africa, the leading dealer in new vehicles with up to 47 per cent of the total market share agrees that while the local industry can meet demand on heavy commercial and other bigger capacity vehicles, it falls short of production capacity to meet the demand for small units.

The uptake of locally assembled heavy commercial vehicles, trucks, buses, and other units also remains low despite availability, according to Isuzu Sales and Marketing Director, Wanjohi Kangangi.

“This business is very capital intensive, so you invest for the long term. At the moment we can do up to 18,000 units but the market that is there is only taking 6,000 to 7,000. We are doing a lot of work to grow the market because the capacity is there,” Kangangi said.

Local assemblers and dealers have been banking on KS1515:2019 standard by the Kenya National Bureau of Standards to help tame the high imports and support the growth of the local assemblies.

The standard meant to tighten inspection and allowable imports unveiled in 2019 was however challenged in court, with a pending case to date.

The standard outlines the age limit and emission limits for commercial passenger vehicles, trucks, tractor heads and prime movers, which is in favour of local assemblers.

Kenya currently has three major motor vehicle assemblers with an annual production of 40,000 commercial vehicles.

These are Associated Vehicle Assemblers (AVA) in Mombasa, Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers (KVM) in Thika and Isuzu East Africa in Nairobi.

Efforts by the government to support local assemblies in recent years have so far not yielded the much-intended results.

In the 2022-23 budget, the National Treasury proposed several incentives to support local production among them exemption from VAT inputs and raw materials used in the manufacture of passenger motor vehicles.

Additionally, it proposed to exempt locally manufactured passenger motor vehicles from VAT and excise duty.

According to Isuzu East Africa managing director Rita Kavashe, the already established Kenyan automotive industry has the potential to take the country to the fore as a regional vehicle manufacturing hub, supplying the Eastern and Central Africa regions.

To achieve scale and competitiveness to become a regional and global automotive supplier, Kenya needs to fully implement the National Automotive Policy which aims to spur growth within the local automotive industry, Kavashe noted.

By implementing the KS1515 Standard, Kenya’s automotive assembly industry has the potential to double by moving production of commercial vehicles from 12,000 per annum to 24,000 within two years, she said, while creating an additional 10,000 jobs.

African countries that have progressed to become global suppliers of motor vehicles are South Africa, Morocco and Egypt.

South Africa produces 400,000 vehicles and exports over 100,000 vehicles, Egypt produces over 80,000 vehicles and plans to increase these numbers to 500,000 while  Morocco assembles over 250,000 vehicles and exports about 170,000 vehicles annually.

CFAO Motors Kenya is also keen to expand its capacity with strategic local assembly initiatives, including Sh300 million investments in the local assembly lines.

Managing director Arvinder Reel said the firm is beginning to reap growth benefits attributed to the recent merger of Toyota Kenya and DT-Dobie, which has allowed the firm to boost its local assembly capacity.

Kenya and Japan’s motor vehicle giant Toyota have also entered into a vehicle manufacturing deal that will see the firm set up base locally.

The country imports about 130,000 second-hand vehicles annually at about Sh60 billion, with used cars enjoying 85 per cent of the market share.

 “We must have a balance between the number of imported and newly manufactured vehicles,” President William Ruto said during the signing of the deal in Tokyo, Japan.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has since noted that whereas there are endless opportunities for value addition in different sectors, they are largely untapped. 

“Low-value addition in Kenya has made it impossible to realise the full potential of the manufacturing sector, hence denying citizens extra jobs, wealth retention and incentivization of the sector to increase production and economic growth,” KAM chairman Rajan Shah notes.

The association has challenged the government to create an enabling environment for businesses and investors.

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