Kenyan car buyers are opting for hybrid models following rising fuel prices and high cost of living due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Used-vehicle dealers say they’ve seen an increase in sales of smaller vehicles and hybrids since the pandemic began.
A hybrid combines at least an electric motor with a gasoline engine to move the car, and its system recovers energy through regenerative braking.
Sometimes the electric motor does all the work, sometimes it’s the gasoline engine, and sometimes they work together. The result is less gasoline burned and, therefore, better fuel economy.
With a liter of premium unleaded petrol costing around Sh160 and that of diesel for Sh140, Kenyans were forced to hold on to their wallets.
“At the moment, small vehicles like Toyota Vitz, due to their engine capacity, are in high demand and trying to get them to the pump is very minimal,” said Ken Baraza, manager of Plus Point auto store on Ngong. Road.
“The cost of fuel has affected the cost of running the vehicles. Most people are now opting for smaller engines and more specifically, Toyota is advancing and manufacturing hybrid engines, which normally consume very little fuel.
Fuel prices are changing shopping habits and there are early signs that people may be rethinking their purchases.
Toyota Vitz, Honda Fit and Nissan Note in particular have become favorites of Kenyan households as more and more people prefer smaller vehicles from 1200 cubic centimeters (cc) to 1800 cc.
The Vitz model, which belongs to the hatchback family, has an engine capacity of around 1.5 liters and sold for 1 million shillings last year but has now reached around 1.4 million shillings.
Some of the fast hybrid cars come from Toyota, Nissan and Honda.
Used car dealers in Nairobi say customer interest in more fuel-efficient cars, particularly hybrid vehicles, has increased, although parts shortages have limited the supply of new models.
Terry Mwihaki, director of Lancet Motors, a second-hand car dealership in Nairobi, says Kenyans are buying more used BMWs and smaller vehicles.
“This month we sold around 15 cars between 1200cc and 1400cc averaging between Sh1 million and Sh2 million,” Ms Mwihaki said.
Ms Mwihaki warned first-time buyers that engine capacity and fuel efficiency are crucial considerations when buying a vehicle.
“You have to be very careful when buying a car, at Sh150 a liter [of fuel] that’s a lot for a top cc. For example, if you get a 3000cc it will strain your pockets, so people currently tend to go for the 1200cc up to two liters. That’s what’s rapidly changing for us,” she says.
Auto dealers say global shortages of components such as microchips, exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions in China, continue to hamper manufacturers’ ability to meet demand.
The pain falls hardest on car dealerships and anyone in need of an affordable car.
Automakers have allocated these rare chips to high-end and other vehicles that generate the most profit, resulting in long waits for cheaper vehicles.
Drivers wait over 12 months to take delivery of some models. Used car prices are skyrocketing due to the lack of new vehicles.
The sticker shock is likely to persist as the ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic compounded by the invasion of Ukraine affect commodity prices and the movement of the commodity supply chain.
“Most people at the moment, because of fuel prices, are interested in hybrids because they are more fuel efficient. We have sold about four hybrid fielders in the last month,” said a Nairobi-based car dealer. .
The Vitz and Honda Fit have established themselves as the sporty tiny-but-spacious benchmark for small vehicles.
I would bet you can’t drive on Kenyan roads for thirty minutes without spotting at least one of these vehicles.
Mr John Ndwati, Sales Manager at Valley Road Motors, echoes the same sentiments that small cars sell out fast.
“In the last year we haven’t sold a lot of larger vehicles, people are turning away from models like the Toyota Landcruiser V8 [with up to 4461 cc]because the car is a beast on fuel consumption,” Mr Ndwati said.
Dealers said local manufacturing can be an alternative to such global supply chain disruption.
The pandemic has sparked a global debate about shifting from globalization to local sourcing for chip and many other industries to increase the resilience of supply chains.
They said they hoped the government would continue to support local manufacturers and assemblers, especially as they pay very high duties on imported cars.