A car has always been considered as a status symbol, a show of affluence, an indicator of social mobility.
The more expensive and comfortable the vehicle is, the higher the socio-economic rung the owner is elevated to.
But due to the poor public transport system in the country, coupled with other factors, that perception has been erased.
A car is no longer a luxury. It has become a necessity. Before the turn of the millennium, only who-is-who in the country could purchase one.
Availability of cheap loans
To join the exclusive club, an individual had to save for years but that’s no longer the case. For the past 15 years or so, the tide has changed with even millennials flaunting German car keys in bars and restaurants.
This has largely been driven by the availability of cheap loans from banks and microfinance institutions.
Vivian Nyasuguta, 28, is a Public Relations (PR) consultant who drives to work, just a year into employment. “I was advised to do so by my colleagues and friends who had also bought cars. I’m still servicing the loan,” she says.
Ian Mwaura, 29, is a marketing professional on the same lane. “A friend recommended that I go for a fresh import because they are affordable compared to a new car,” he offers.
Their stories are replicated across the nation. These young professionals have fuelled the rapid growth of dealerships in Nairobi that sell second-hand vehicles from Asia.
While the car bazaar at the Jamhuri Showground on Ngong Road was popular for such deals on Sundays, most individual owners kept their cars in dealerships along Mombasa Road during the week.
Prospective buyers preferred the Sunday ‘market day’ at the bazaar because the vehicles were better priced. No third-party deals.
However, over the years, as financial institutions came up with affordable car loans, it became easier to own one.
Rise of car dealerships
It opened a window of opportunity for shrewd businessmen and car dealerships sprang up along Ngong Road, Lang’ata Road and Kiambu Road with lightning speed.
Ngong Road, which is well known for its exquisite furniture, is now the undisputed king of car showrooms. Where the furniture stores end, car showrooms begin. Kiambu Road comes a distant second.
The two fast-growing fashionable districts have left Mombasa Road in a daze as it tries to keep up with the pace.
Between Jamhuri Sports Complex and Coptic Hospital, there are more than 30 showrooms. Omar Fafi, a car dealer, attributes Ngong Road’s success to its strategic location.
“Ever since the road was expanded to a dual carriageway, more businesses are setting up base here. It’s also close to Kilimani, which is developing very fast and has many people with spending power. That’s why Ngong Road is the main market for high-end cars,” he says.
“Other dealers moved here from Lang’ata Road when yards were taken over by real estate projects since most of them were in residential areas.”
Desmond Savatia, another dealer, says Ngong Road’s biggest advantage is its easy accessibility from all corners of the capital.
“Although the rent is high, sales are good. On a good month, we can sell up to 15 vehicles,” he offers.
The average cost of a used car is Sh750, 000.
The market is, however, dominated by foreign firms, especially those from Pakistan. Most Kenyans prefer them because they import quality cars at relatively cheap process as opposed to third-party deals.
“Kenyans are disadvantaged as they mostly do third-party deals. It’s not a fair competition because they (foreigners) have a lot of resources. Local firms keep shifting to Kiambu Road to escape the competition here,” says Mr Fafi.
Mr Paul Mwangi, a car dealer on Kiambu Road, escaped the cutthroat completion on Ngong Road in 2014 for the relative peace of Kiambu Road.
“The expansion of the road made things tough for us because space became very expensive. The rent on Kiambu Road is cheaper and it’s easily accessible from the CBD. There’s also room for expansion,” he says.
Mr Anthony Mwangi, also a dealer, agrees: “Kiambu Road is attracting more dealers due to affordable rent. Ngong Road has become quite expensive to run a business.”
“Being close to the city centre, sales are also good on Kiambu Road. Instead of going to Mombasa, most customers now buy their cars in Nairobi,” adds Mr Dennis Njoroge.
He set up base here three years ago and the sales have been good with customers coming from across the country.
Despite the differences in space and rent, both zones are doing well. The sector was only affected by the pandemic, which pushed up prices because of low supply.