Why are most of the cars in Africa white?

Austrian scrap cars for Africa

Every year 180,000 used cars are more or less legally exported from Austria, mainly to Africa. But now the market threatens to collapse because of the scrapping premium.

The ad reads promisingly for anyone looking to get rid of an ancient car. “We all buy”, it says on the website flohmarkt.at. "Hobbyists! Used cars! Bosom! pay fair price! bj - it doesn't matter! without pimples - it doesn't matter! ville km - it doesn't matter! unfal, rust - it doesn't matter! to call 24h 0681-102xx xxx. "

The somewhat bumpy German already suggests that this is not necessarily a domestic used car dealer. Scrap dealers also express themselves a little better. A quick call to the prepaid cell phone confirms: The potential buyer is from Eastern Europe. “We export the car,” he explains. “To the markets where it doesn't matter whether it has a sticker or not.” Or ville kilometers.

In fact, what is junk in Austria and possibly even causes costs for disposal can still be made elsewhere. In - depending on the condition of the car - Serbia, Croatia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Russia, Romania or even Africa. And the market for near-scrap cars is not a small one: 180,000 of the approximately 260,000 end-of-life cars that are produced in Austria each year are exported. To get an idea of ​​the dimensions that are at stake here: In the past year, 293,000 new cars were bought in Austria.

The export of used cars is not a new idea: The stories of students who drove to Syria in rusty cars and used the money from the sales to finance their studies are legendary. Or those who crossed Africa in an off-road vehicle, only to exchange it for plane tickets back to Austria in the end.

We are now a long way from that. The almost romantic student trips of yore have grown into a thriving industry. An estimated six million used cars are shipped from Europe around the world every year. One of the main buyers is Africa, where even the rickiest old cars are used.


Value less than 2000 euros. Most cars are valued “far less” than 2,000 euros, according to the Grimaldi shipping company in Hamburg. She is one of the largest car shippers in Europe. Every year, says Dirk Peters, 400,000 vehicles are brought to Africa. Two ships leave Hamburg every week and call at almost every state on the west coast of the continent. Depending on the size of the vehicle and the destination, Grimaldi charges between 300 and 500 euros for the transport. That is the "RoRo" price: roll-on, roll-off. The cars are positioned centimeter apart on the ferry: in heavy seas they arrive with a few additional bumps. But that doesn't bother anyone with these cars.

Over the years, the various African countries have developed their own preferences for various vehicles: From Senegal to Ghana, cars are the main buyers. They prefer minibuses in Benin and Nigeria, and SUVs in Cameroon and the Congo.

The largest transshipment point in Africa is the port of Cotonou in Benin. Used car imports make up a remarkable 14 percent of the gross domestic product in this state. Depending on the condition, between a few hundred and a few thousand euros are paid per vehicle. Even cars that are no longer drivable are still traded here.

“In Africa they are used for everything. They are enormously resourceful when it comes to adapting a car for something, ”explains Jürgen Schlosser. The German specializes in trucks that he buys all over Europe and then ships to Africa. "If nothing works anymore, they turn an old truck engine into a well pump or a cable pull."


Problems with new engines. The one-man company Schlosser sells 100 to 150 trucks to West African countries every year. He collects between 5,000 and 10,000 euros per truck. However, he makes sure that no truck is newer than the year of manufacture 1995: That was the year in which the technical refinements began, and you can't cope with that in Africa. “The electronic injections have problems with the adulterated gasoline. The old engines can still do it. They are great. "

Walter Kletzmayr is one of the people who can be less happy about it. He is the spokesman for the Austrian shredder companies and complains about the “almost mafia-like organizations” that the cars bring to Africa. Because every vehicle that leaves Austria is one less for the shredder. Valuable raw materials were also lost: “Every year, 15 million tons of steel scrap leave Europe in the form of cars. Plus 500,000 tons of aluminum, copper and lead. 60 tons of precious metals, such as platinum (which is used in catalysts, note). You have to buy that back at a high price. "

The EU recognized years ago that this was a problem. That is why it has issued an “End-of-Life Vehicle Ordinance”, which stipulates that cars must be given to a recognized company as waste and may not be exported. But this regulation is circumvented wherever possible. A number of exports are illegal because the cars are actually junk, explains the Ministry of the Environment.

The market is now regulating itself - admittedly only after the state intervenes: Because of the scrapping premium, there are fewer old cars for export. “We can hardly get a usable used car for less than 2500 euros,” says a German exporter who does not want to be named. 2500 euros is the sum that you get for your old car from a German neighbor when you buy a new car. “We used to export ten or 15 vehicles a month. Now it's almost zero. "


Controls in Austria. In Austria, the 30,000 cars for which the state paid an eco-premium of EUR 1,500 are no longer available. It must be proven that they end up at an official scrapping company. Appropriate controls are currently being prepared in the environmental department.

The shipping company Grimaldi is also feeling the effects. Peters confirms that exports of used cars to Africa have fallen by 20 to 30 percent since the beginning of the year. “The market collapses.” And even a locksmith complains. Less because of the scrapping bonus, which doesn't really affect his truck business, but because of the ongoing economic crisis. This leads to companies driving their trucks longer and postponing new purchases. "Some companies are almost as resourceful as Africans when it comes to repairing their old trucks."

("Die Presse", print edition, July 5, 2009)