Harmonisation of vehicle standards



AFRICA is the final frontier for the motor industry. It has one of the lowest motorisation rates in the world, the youngest population and the fastest growing middle class. That’s the upside. The downside is that if we don’t regulate this, Africa could become one of the world’s fastest developing polluters.

There are currently an estimated 45 million vehicles in Africa, at 27 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants compared to 481 in the United Kingdom for example, but by 2040, the World Bank expects that will be nearly 137-million more light duty vehicles in Africa than there were four years ago. This is wonderful as an indicator of economic development but hugely problematic when you consider that most of these – by current trends – will be second hand vehicles, imported as such to Africa.

These vehicles were never intended for Africa; either for our road conditions or our fuel quality. We end up with ostensible mobility solutions that in reality are bad for the health of our people, both in terms of the damage they do to the environment and the risk they pose for both passengers and drivers.  Africa has the highest per capita road fatality rate in the world, one that is projected to increase by 112% according to the World Health Organisation by 2030 – put another way, the financial cost of this for members of the Southern African Development Community alone was equivalent to 5% of GDP every year.

There was a 75% growth in vehicle emissions between 2000 and 2016. This is a huge concern because vehicle emissions are perhaps the biggest source of not just air pollution but CO2 emissions. Both of these are key contributors to climate change which we are starting to feel the brunt of in Africa with droughts and flooding and the confusion of seasons, but also small particulate matter – especially black carbon – that causes 4.2-million premature deaths per year.

There are only two solutions to this looming crisis; improving fuel quality by legislating for cleaner fuels and ensuring that only vehicles with the best emission control technology are on our roads. The United Nations Environment Programme has been doing sterling work in this regard leading the continent by regions to focus on harmonising fuel standards and lowering emissions, hosting two workshops; in Johannesburg and Nairobi, in June.

It’s an uphill battle; it doesn’t help to have the latest Euro standard vehicles on our roads, they can’t run effectively on the fuel that is available so the grey imports – so-called because they are not imported to the continental markets by the manufacturers themselves – become locally ‘tropicalised’ by cutting out the catalytic converters in the exhaust systems that are designed to cut the emissions; effectively rendering a Euro 5 standard vehicle a worse polluter than a Euro 0 vehicle.

The other side of the equation is the lack of policy around grey imports and clean fuels. Of the 54 countries that make up Africa, only five countries have an outright ban on the importation of second hand vehicles. Three countries have a Euro 5 emission standard and ban cars older than three years. Five countries have a Euro 4 emission standard and ban used vehicles old than five years. 17 countries though have a Euro 3 standard or lower and ban vehicles older than eight years. In just under half of Africa, 25 countries, there is no emission standard at all and second hand vehicles over nine years old are regularly imported.

Only 12 countries have adopted low sulphur fuels – fuels with no more than 50 parts sulphur per million and ideally 10 or 15 ppm. The East African Community harmonised its low sulphur policy six years ago and is currently revising its standards to cut sulphur even further, while the Economic Community of West African States met last December to begin the harmonisation process and will present recommendations to the ministers of the various member states in July. In Southern Africa, seven countries have adopted 50ppm sulphur levels, with an eight in transition but the problem remains South Africa and the pressing need for investment to upgrade its refineries to produce cleaner fuel.

Africa has to move quickly or face falling further and further behind the rest of the world, with the only guarantees being congestion flashpoints and a continued fall in the standard of air quality. Europe leads the globe in this regard having started with the Euro standard in 1993 not just in driving cleaner vehicles and cleaner fuels, but also in totally changing the shape and feel of its cities by legislating against congestion, incentivising the use of electric vehicles and increasingly penalising the use of internal combustion engines.

The European Union intends to reduce greenhouse gases to 40% of the 1994 levels by 2030 and emit zero greenhouse gases by 2050. The US is piloting electric vehicle studies in nine states, China is adopting a mix of US and EU policies, India has already implemented its own EV/Hybrid policy, while Brazil is busy with an increasingly tighter emissions policy with aggressive sanctions for non-compliance.

Here in Africa; only South Africa and Mauritius have seen the successful introduction of EV technology, but in South Africa’s case it’s almost pointless given the country’s determination to invest in some of the biggest coal fired electricity generating plants in the world. Kenya, on the other hand could be a real alternative given the availability of hydro and thermal power generating capacity there.

Biofuels are another alternative; they are theoretically carbon neutral and constitute 3% of the world’s fuel, far short of the 10% target set for 2030. In Africa, eSwatini has its own biofuel, the E10 using ethanol from sugar, while Zimbabwe is looking at amending its regulations in this regard. The concern here is dedicating much needed food crops to fuel where food security is not guaranteed in a country.

The only sustainable solution for Africa is to clean up the fuel quality, ban the importation of second hand vehicles and create Africa’s own indigenous automotive sector, producing harmonised vehicles that are fit for Africa – starting off a base of Euro 0 and progressing steadily to Euro 2 and beyond. This will create jobs directly, fast track the industrialisation of the continent and change the many economies that are still largely resource based. Where possible, certain countries, especially Africa’s island states should seriously consider transitioning passenger vehicles at least to electric, given the closed transport eco-system that already exists.

None of this is possible without the political will to change and the policies to underpin them. No manufacturer will want to invest in creating an automotive assembly plant in country without this kind of protection and guarantee but where there are these kind of policies in place, we can start building affordable cars locally, creating jobs and helping industrialise Africa to meet its full potential and when we do that, we can start to see the same trajectory that the automotive industry has seen in places like Thailand, which now has the 12th largest automotive industry in the world, or China.

 Jim Dando is director of sales and operations for Nissan Group of Africa.