Buses for Africa
By christophersaul on Jan 15, 2009
An interesting article here from the BBC, about the Ivory Coast building its own buses (albeit based on components from Iveco).
This comment caught my eye -
"In Europe the technology is very sophisticated with lots of electronic devices. In Africa we don't need this. We just need robust buses because our roads are not very well done like in Europe. This is an African design for Africa."
This is something I've commented on here before. Many of the countries I visit have roads filled with what you might call 'serviceable' cars. By serviceable, I mean vehicles that a decent mechanic can repair and maintain without having to buy a proprietary diagnostic computer system from the manufacturer, or having to stock up on tonnes of electronic gadgetry simply for the key to be able to turn in the ignition. Most of these vehicles are pre-1995, not particularly luxurious but still going strong.
A Lebanese Liberian Toyota importer I met in Ghana (sorry, I'm showing off a bit here) told me that older model Toyota pickups fetch a much better price than the current range - the previous generation are simply tougher, last longer and are more reliable. It's interesting to see a market where a ten year old secondhand vehicle can be worth more than its three year old younger brother.
I wonder how much electronics is really needed and whether there's a market for European vendors to produce more basic vehicles, both for Europe and elsewhere? How about a Mercedes S class or Range Rover for Africa?
I believe that Land Rover and other manufacturers have versions of their basic 4x4s that are for the Africa market only. The reason they are 'Africa only' is that the electronics have been removed - that doesn't mean simply providing manual rather than electric windows, it means removing some of the electronics involved in engine management. The result is a more reliable car, but one that is more polluting and wouldn't meet European and US standards. At least, that's what I have heard from people in the know.
Some European vendors are definitely manufacturing more solid, less complex vehicles for sale outside Europe. South Africa has a VW factory producing what are essentially Golf Mark 1s with an updated interior, as well as a VW van from the same era. They aren't expensive and are still fairly basic. I am sure that VW don't sell these in Europe so as to avoid cannibalising their more recent and more expensive models. This is understandable. I am sure they would sell extremely well if they were available, particularly given the current climate. Maybe we'll start to see some brand new, right hand drive new/old Mark 1s appearing on the streets of Essex. Kevin and Gary would be souping them up in no time.
What will be on the roads of, say, Casablanca in twenty years' time? Will the 1970s Mercedes 200 taxi still be going strong whilst Europe's scrapheaps are full of Mercedes' 1990 to 2010 models? Or will Casa's roads be filled with the cars currently driving around Europe? Will simpler models, stripped of electronic unreliability be sold directly to Africa or will electronics keep their place but become more reliable and easy to maintain?