There is nothing wrong with parking a Mercedes Benz outside a bedsitter - CarMax director

[Photo: Courtesy]

Gilbert Maina, the director of CarMax reveals why Kenyans buy cars based on registration plates, why most cars are white, what makes women prefer and whether Mercedes is still a status symbol.

Why do Kenyans buy vehicles by number plates, yet the engine and mileage are more important?

Our industry is very interesting. New number plates give some people an ego. What we call second hand cars are treated as new in Kenya. Currently, driving a KCT makes one be considered classy and rich. Think it is all about showing off and ego.

However, a number can be overtaken easily and selling that vehicle becomes a problem. We have suggested to NTSA to sell plates and add value like in South Africa and Dubai, who have authenticated selling agents from where you can buy a number plate.

The NTSA should capitalise on number plates auctioning. Our number plates are actually ugly.  It is sad to see people who prefer to have newer number plates rather than the condition of the car.

Why are most cars white and why are coloured ones more expensive?

Most of our car sources have extreme weather, like Japan has seven months of summer which is high humidity and white cars absorb less heat compared to dark coloured ones.

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But colours also signify many things. In Japan, white represents purity and truthfulness and Japanese clientele tend to order white coloured vehicles but that is changing now. Actually the most expensive colour in the world is pearl white.

How are female buyers different from male car buyers?

The man today has been overtaken by events; currently we tend to have more women buying vehicles because they are getting more financially stable than men. Six out of 10 calls we receive are from young women aged between 25 and 40 years. They go for medium sized cars, the RAV 4, Mercedes, BMW, VW and Harrier while men are into Prados, Subarus, BMWs, Land Rovers and Range Rovers.

When it comes to buying a house, land or car, Kenyans use emotions. How can a car dealer tell it is emotions and not logic at work?

An average income of Sh50,000 cannot finance a mortgage and a car at the same time. Most people live in rental houses and buying a car becomes a dear asset, hence, owning it becomes emotional. When Kenyans buy a car, it must be tool of work and an asset, which can be resold.

Maina is the director of CarMax [Photo: Courtesy]

There are so many cars with South Sudanese number plates. What’s the deal?

South Sudan has been unstable and we have high end refugees driving their vehicles here as they wait for their country to be peaceful. We have Kenyans, who work in South Sudan and have bought cars and use them there, then there are rogue ones putting them in our market illegally.

Mercedes Benz is no longer a status symbol. What happened?

Mercedes is still a status symbol, it is just that Kenyans are more aware of other brands. Apart from Toyota, Mercedes is an easily serviced car in Kenya, it actually sales more than BMW, Porsche, Jeep and Range Rover.

Some people think it is foolish to park an expensive car outside a bedsitter. What’s your view?

If you can afford the car, why not? You will get a good cheap house about 30 to 40 kilometers from Nairobi and if it is within the city, it could be the estate you don’t want. So, you stay in a bedsitter for convenience. We also have people who do not have sustainable income like tenderpreneurs, who can afford to buy a car but not live in a good house because the income is not guaranteed. Or they are consultants and suppliers and there is always delays in payment. Further, men nowadays marry when they are about 30 or 40 years and don’t see the essence of living in a big house. Others drive big cars as a status symbol.

How do you tell a car whose mileage has been tampered with?

Kenya Bureau of Standards has appointed inspectors who certify original mileage and post it online. But you cannot verify those from Australia and South Africa since there are no inspectors and banks do not finance vehicles with tempered millage. Mileage is not a determinant of a good vehicle. High way mileage and city mileage are different, weather also plays an important role as vehicles driven in Dubai, Mombasa and other costal areas are highly affected by sea so avoid them.

Kenyans buy cars depending on availability of spare parts and consumption. Are those the most important parameters?

Many people buy cars by the wishes of their hearts but unfortunately, some cars are not ideal for Kenya and Africa. So, buy a practical car. But if you can afford it you can buy any car because it is now easier to import spare parts. A good car should be changed after every three years especially for used cars.

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What are the pros and cons of self-importing a car?

It is not difficult. You can buy at an auction or go to an international dealer to bid it for you. But without investigations, you are likely to be ripped off or get extra duty charges.

How will the five-year-rule on motor vehicles affect your business?

It is going to shrink our business. There are people willing to buy a seven-year-old car since they can’t afford one that is five years old. Money is tight now and financial institutions are not giving any money, it is unfair and the local dealers have no capacity to manufacture vehicles and sale them competitively. This will affect me, clearing and forwarding guys, mechanics, drivers and even Mama Mbogas. 

Cars are being auctioned daily. What is the problem?

Businesses are dying and there is no money. The money market is drained and people don’t have money to buy cars, it has become much harder to get money and the defaulting rates are high.

Which are the best car makes Kenyans ignore?

For most Kenyans, they love Toyotas, but we are witnessing more buying Mazda, Nissans, Porsche, Honda, Mistubishi and Ford.

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What are some of the strange requests you get from buyers?

One of the most annoying requests are colours because most are not popular in Japan but you can change them in Kenya. Then we have those after credit, yet you don’t know them and there is no way of verifying where they work while others want unrealistic specs on cars.

What common mistakes do new car buyers make?

Not researching if the car is genuine. Not asking questions and shopping in different places. People should know there are no cars which come from Dubai because they use left hand drive cars. Dubai is only a channel market of cars from other countries.

How do stolen cars from foreign markets get here?

Through a cartel which load cars on transit to other countries as household goods or other types of goods and if customs does not detect them they enter the market.

What do Kenyans customize the most in cars?

There are lots of facelifts being done to customer preference.