Managing Director of Winpart/AutoFast, a division of CFAO Motors Nigeria Limited, Mohamed Taleb speaks with Blessen Chukwu on issues affecting the automotive industry
Would have you say the auto industry has recovered from COVID-19?
I will say “yes” and “no”. Manufacturing of cars and parts has started again, so all factories are open again. Availability is therefore better than before. However, we are still facing price inflation around the world, which is why I said yes and no to the recovery.
Commodity prices seem to have been affected by the devaluation of the naira. How has this affected your business?
Unfortunately, our company is no exception. However, we try to do our best to source from manufacturers who also offer the best competitive prices and qualities, which makes our products in Nigeria always affordable for Nigerian drivers and vehicle owners.
How has the devaluation of the naira affected the sales and importation of automotive industry goods?
It’s hard to give an exact rate, but certainly, especially recently, the naira has been devalued because we buy our products usually in US dollars, but I’ll say maybe around 20%. That might be a reasonable number, but as I mentioned before, we always try to do our best to keep prices affordable for our customers, because we know it can be too easy to just dump all those costs into our retail or selling prices. So, luckily for us, we can absorb some of that increase.
Why do you think there are more used vehicles in Nigeria?
Obviously, for many reasons, one of which is the purchasing power of Nigerian drivers. They can’t afford new vehicles, so that’s the first case. There is also the issue of affordability. You know that the price increase we mentioned earlier also applies to cars when you want to buy new cars because most of them are imported. Also, perhaps accessibility to loans from the bank is not always easy to obtain. Maybe the process is a bit too long, which is why most drivers just buy used cars, which are available in the market and at relatively cheaper prices.
One of the challenges for vehicle owners is the use of counterfeit parts. Is there any hope that this can be minimized or eventually eradicated?
It can be. Regarding counterfeit coins, culturally speaking, what I have seen in Nigeria is that the market for counterfeit coins is huge. You have places like Ladipo, and it affects not only Nigeria but neighboring countries as well. Some of the coins also go to these neighboring countries. Culturally speaking, it’s part of the habit to have them, which is why we try to ensure that all our partnerships with brands lead to product accessibility. It is essential to intervene between the purchase of luxury parts from a dealer and those from counterfeit parts in the market. We try to create a balance.
Can vehicle owners obtain original spare parts that fit their vehicles themselves? If so, how can they achieve this?
For any driver, yes they can. The first thing to get is what is called the chassis number or VIN but most drivers to be honest won’t be comfortable with that because even when you ask for a chassis number they will look at you like they don’t know what you’re talking about. But that’s why we’re here, but by getting the chassis number you can get all the parts. It’s like when you want to change the oil filter and you need to get the part number of the filter or they can use software to search auto parts helping you to get the parts easily. However, if you cannot do it yourself, you can always come and visit the autofast station so that our service provider can help you get your part number.
How do you rate the craftsmanship of technicians in the automotive industry in Nigeria?
Well, they are doing very well. I would say they are doing very well and I was quite surprised because the technicians are very smart. Even if it is sometimes difficult for them to get all the tools or equipment, because not all the workshops can afford to have all these technologies, they try their best.
We try to ensure that all of our technicians are first thoroughly trained in different subjects and we expose them to high tech equipment. So all we have is so much more so we can’t be labeled as an old school workshop.
Speaking of vehicle maintenance, how can the process and procedures be improved to achieve optimum quality, given the poor road conditions in Nigeria?
For that, I would say that it comes with what we call preventive maintenance and control. If you do not check your vehicle regularly, you may have damaged parts, especially considering bad roads, traffic situation and weather conditions which also affect the general condition of the car. By the time you find out, your car has broken down. All these things put in place in the workshops are also there to prevent any event of a breakdown so that it can be repaired before your vehicle breaks down or before it costs you much more than it should be. . Regular checks, otherwise known as preventive measures and inspections, are necessary.
What do you think of vehicle safety and how can periodic maintenance improve it?
As I mentioned before, first of all, I think the first is to make sure that drivers get used to doing these inspections and preventive maintenance. You can’t just go to workshops like once every five years. This cannot happen, so you must do it regularly, depending on the number of kilometers traveled in the year and the intensity of use of your vehicle. This will determine if it needs to be serviced maybe every two, three or six months is the first. Second, use traceable and/or good parts. Avoid using counterfeit parts, as mentioned earlier, from the market. Using counterfeit parts may seem economical at first, but it will definitely affect your car, bringing you higher repair cost at the end of the process. You should see your technician and get a clear diagnosis, like when you go to see your own doctor. Don’t wait until you’re sick, do a few checks and maybe they might spot something wrong before it gets worse. For example, here, whenever a customer visits, we make sure to perform a free 10 point check for them.
Would you say that regular maintenance will increase the longevity of vehicles?
Yes definitely. Doing this regularly will prevent the risk of further damage to your car and there are some parts that are visible from the outside while others are not. So those also need to be checked so if you don’t you might notice your car start ok you can drive ok but your fuel mileage might be affected and at at the end of the day, it might end up breaking down in the middle of Apapa, Yaba or the third continental bridge, which will also lead to traffic jams and even put you in danger or even cause accidents when you expect it the least. It is therefore sufficient to carry out regular checks.
Would you say that regular maintenance is the solution for Nigerians?
Yes, this may not solve everything, let’s be honest because the roads themselves also need to be repaired. Most of the breakdowns and accidents we see on the roads today are primarily caused by lack of maintenance and upkeep.
What is the recommended interval for vehicle checks?
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 miles. We have clients who are professionals and because it’s a tool for them, they come every month, like every 4000, 5000 kilometres. They come to see us for these inspections that I mentioned.
AutoFast being a new franchise in the country, how do you intend to invade the market and become a serious competitor?
Our first plan and strategy is to focus on the customer experience, so wherever we go and open a station, we ensure that it meets high quality standards in terms of equipment but also the environment for our customers. . This means that we also have people trained in customer experience. We also work on the basis of the technical knowledge of CFAO Motors Nigeria. Our company has been in Nigeria for over 120 years so obviously we have some knowledge of repairing parts and we are also focusing more through our marketing department on customer needs and making sure that our products are affordable and available too.
Do you plan to have a training school for technicians on starting up local auto manufacturing in Nigeria?
Yes, we are currently working on what we call “Sustain the Room”. We plan to have our own local and this place will also have a training center where we will train our technicians and anyone else interested in training. This includes individuals, organizations, businesses, associations and any other person. The training center is open to all Nigerians.