Naira devaluation hurting Nigeria’s automotive industry –Expert - PUNCH
The General Manager of CFAO Motors, Mohamed Taleb, speaks with Blessing Chukwu on issues affecting the automotive industry
Would you say that the auto industry has recovered from COVID-19?
I will say ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Manufacturing of cars and parts has recommenced, so all the factories are open again. So, availability is getting better than previously. However, we are still facing inflation of prices worldwide, which is why I said yes and no to the recovery.
The prices of products seem to have been affected by naira devaluation. How has this affected your business?
Unfortunately, our business is not an exemption. However, we try to do our best to source from manufacturers who are giving the best competitive prices and qualities as well, which make our products in Nigeria still affordable for Nigerian drivers and vehicle owners.
How much has the naira devaluation affected sales and importation of goods of the auto industry?
It’s difficult to give an exact rate, but definitely, especially recently, the naira has been devalued because we buy our products usually in US dollars, but I will say maybe around 20 per cent. That can be a reasonable figure, but as I mentioned before, we always try to do our best to keep affordable prices for our customers because we know that it can be too easy to just report all these costs into our retail or selling prices. So, fortunately for us, we are able to absorb a part of this increase.
Why, in your opinion, are there more second-hand vehicles in Nigeria?
Obviously, for many reasons, one of which is the purchasing power of Nigerian drivers. They cannot afford to have brand new vehicles, so this is the first case. There is the issue of affordability as well. You know the increase in prices we mentioned before also applies to cars when you want to buy brand new cars because most of them are imported. Also, maybe loan accessibility from the bank is not always easy to get. Maybe the process is a bit too long, which is why most of the drivers just buy second-hand valued cars, which are available in the market and at relatively cheaper prices.
One of the challenges of vehicle owners is the use of counterfeit parts. Is there hope that this can be minimised or possibly eradicated?
It can be. Concerning counterfeit parts, culturally speaking, what I have noticed in Nigeria is that the market for counterfeit parts is huge. You have places like Ladipo, and it doesn’t affect only Nigeria but also neighboring countries. Some of the parts are also going to those neighbouring countries. Culturally speaking, it is part of the habit to have them, which is why we try to make sure that all our partnerships with brands lead to product affordability. It is essential to come in between getting luxury parts from a dealer and the ones from the counterfeit parts in the market. We try to create a balance.
Can vehicle owners source original spare parts that match their vehicles by themselves? If yes, how can they achieve that?
For any driver, yes, they can do. The first thing to get is what is called the chassis or VIN number, but most of the drivers, to be honest, will not be comfortable with that because even when you ask for a chassis number, they will be looking at you as if they do not know what you are talking about. But that is why we are here, but by getting the chassis number, you can get all parts. This is just like when you want to change the oil filter and you’d need to get the part number of the filter or they could use a software to look for auto parts in helping you to get the parts with ease. However, if you cannot do it on your own, you can always come visit the autofast station so our service provider can help you in getting your parts number.
How would you rate the knowhow of technicians in the automotive industry in Nigeria?
Well, they are doing great. I would say that they are doing great and I was quite surprised because the technicians are very smart. Even though sometimes it is difficult for them to get all the tools or equipment, because not all workshops can afford to have all these technologies, they do their best.
We try to make sure that all our technicians are first of all rigorously trained on different topics and we expose them to high technology devices. So, everything we have is quite more so we can’t be tagged as an old school workshop.
Talking about vehicle maintenance, how can the process and procedures be enhanced to get optimum quality, considering Nigeria’s poor state of roads?
For that, I will say that it comes with what we call preventive maintenance and check. If you don’t do a regular check on your vehicle, you may have some damaged parts, especially considering the bad roads, traffic situation and the weather which also affects the general condition of the car. By the time you will know it, your car has broken down. All these things put in place at workshops is also there to prevent any case of breakdown so it can be fixed before your vehicle breaks down or before it costs you much more than what it should be. Regular checks, otherwise called preventive measures and inspections, are needed.
What’s your take on vehicle safety and how can periodic maintenance enhance this?
As I mentioned before, first of all, I think the first one is to make sure that drivers get used to doing those inspections and preventive maintenance. You can’t just go to workshops like once every five years. It cannot happen, so you have to do that regularly, depending on how many kilometers you drive in a year and how intensive you use your vehicle. This will determine if it should be serviced maybe every two, three or six months, that’s the first one. Secondly is using traceable and or good parts. Avoid using counterfeit parts, as mentioned before, from the market. Using counterfeit parts might seem cost saving at the beginning, but it will affect your car, definitely, which will bring you a higher cost of repair at the end of the process. You should visit your technician and get a clear diagnostic like when you go to see your own doctor. Don’t wait to be sick, do some check and maybe they might detect something wrong before it gets worse. For instance, here, every time a customer visits, we make sure we carry out 10-point free check for them.
Would you say that regular maintenance will increase the longevity of vehicles?
Yes, definitely. Doing it regularly will prevent the risks of incurring bigger damage on your car and there are some parts that are visible from the outside while some are not. So, those ones need to be checked as well, so if you don’t, you may just notice that your car is starting, fine, you can drive, fine, but your consumption of fuel might be affected and at the end of the day, it might just end up breaking down in the middle of Apapa, Yaba, or the Third Mainland Bridge, which will also cause traffic and even endanger you, or even cause accidents when you least expect. So, it just pays to run regular checks.
So would you say regular maintenance is the way out for Nigerians?
Yes, it may not solve everything, let’s be honest because the roads themselves also need to be fixed. Most breakdowns and accidents we see on the roads today are mainly caused by lack of maintenance and servicing.
What is the recommended interval for vehicles to be checked?
It depends on the usage. If you are just a regular customer, driver, car owner like you and me, I will recommend every 10,000 kilometers. We have customers that are professionals and because it is a tool for them, they come every month, like every 4000, 5000 kilometers. They come to us for these inspections I mentioned.
AutoFast as a franchise is new in the country, how do you plan to invade the market and become a strong competitor?
Our first plan and strategy is to focus on customer experience, so wherever we go and open a station, we make sure that it follows high quality standards in terms of equipment but also environment for our customers. This means that we also have people that are trained on customer experience. We also work based on the technical knowledge of CFAO Motors Nigeria. Our company has been in Nigeria for over 120 years, so obviously, we have a certain knowledge on how to repair parts and we also focus more, thanks to our marketing department, on customers needs and make sure our products are of affordable prices and are available too.
Do you plan to have a training school for technicians on starting up local car manufacturing in Nigeria?
Yes, we are currently working on what we call ‘Sustain the Room.’ We are planning on getting our own place and this place will also be having a training center where we will be training our technicians and every other person interested in getting trained. This includes individuals, bodies, companies, associations and every other person. The training center is open to all Nigerians.