Highlights in the history of Nigerian automotive industry


Posted by: Testimony Olajire

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To know that most of the vehicles on Nigerian roads nowadays are by Toyota, you will be surprised that Nigerian traffic used to be dominated by the appearances of brands such as Volkswagen or Peugeot which have now become the symbols of the good old days of locally-made cars.

So many people know Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti - as the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria. But then, do they even know the history of cars in Nigeria?

Oya, let us talk.

First, ‘Tokunbo’ has not always been popular!

The history of the automotive industry in Nigeria actually predates her independence. The British introduced the use of cars in the 1950s. However, we are talking about Nigeria, so we would talk more about post-independence events.

1. The first local plants in Nigeria

In the 1970s, the era of the oil boom which was characterized by a large inflow of income, the government was able to enter into a partnership with more advanced countries like Germany, America, and Britain. These partnerships led to the establishment of 6 local assembly parts in the country. 

Just so you know, these 6 were:

  • Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited, Kaduna 

  • Volkswagen of Nigeria Limited, Lagos, 

  • Anambra Motor Manufacturing Limited, Enugu

  • Steyr Nigeria Limited, Bauchi

  • National Truck Manufacturers, Kano

  • Leyland Nigeria Limited, Ibadan.


The Peugeot plant is one of the most long-lasting assembly plants in Nigeria to date

Most of these local assembly plants were established between 1970 and 1980 and some of them were producing more than 100 cars everyday. During this period, there was an increase in the number of people making use of cars, especially the middle class which was rapidly expanding as people in this class could actually afford their education.

2. The most popular cars in Nigeria in the early days

One of the passenger cars that were very popular in this period was the Beetle which was manufactured by Volkswagen and it was practically everywhere!. So let me just say that if you sabi this car, you are very old sir/ma!


The Volkswagen Beetle was one of the cars that dominate the Nigerian roads

>>> It's time to say goodbye though: Volkswagen releases short film saying goodbye to iconic Beetle Ijapa

Another popular car of this era was the Peugeot 504. This car was in vogue, from government officials to various rich and middle-class citizens. In 1975, there were about 2000 units in circulation. By the year 1979, the number rose to 35000 in the country! That was how productive these plants were at the time, 

Other popular passenger cars of the era were the Passat, the Golf, Jett, and the Kombi bus. This Kombi bus is the ancestor of our Danfo today.

Danfo sef get history!

You would also observe that one of the assembly plants listed above was specifically into the manufacturing of trucks in Kano. The Anambra Motor company and Leyland were also heavily involved in the production of trucks for the government and the entire populace. Also, military vehicles, vans were all produced from these plants. 


The Kombi is actually the ancestor of the Danfo bus nowadays

>>> You might also like to read: Classic cars that ruled roads of Nigeria in the 80s and early 90s

3. Nigeria patronized using 4-wheel vehicles

Locally-assembled cars in Nigeria, in their early days, attracted car enthusiasts very quickly as both the government's policy facilitates the popularity of these fuel-run machines by increasing customs duties on imported cars and cars manufactured outside Nigeria. Aside from that, locally-assembled cars offer affordable prices that reach the potentials of the average Nigerian buyers.

The government made their profit, the companies made theirs and the state where the company has also had a cut; it was a win-win for everyone!

So, wetin happen? Typically, the story is predictable.

4. Nigeria economy crisis made a drop in car production

Nigeria began to have problems because of the drop in oil prices. Unfortunately, we were not ready for what was coming as a nation. Perhaps, our leaders did not see it or assumed that oil prices would always be high, one cannot say for sure. What is certain is that the prices dropped and when they did, it affected every sector of the economy and the automotive industry was not exempted.


The drop in oil price cut the car industry in Nigeria deep, changing its status forever

Before the late 80s, when there was a drop in oil prices, the government-subsidized the car parts being imported into the country for assembly. This allowed the price of cars to be affordable and allowed the target demand to be met. However, after the oil prices dropped, the government had very serious problems doing this and began to require licenses and custom duties on the parts coming in.

Of course, this drove the cost of production up and consequently, the prices of the vehicles soared up. So, there was a scenario of increased demand, a drop in production, and increased cost of production of cars, and an increase in the price of locally made cars. 

"In 1981, Volkswagen was producing at about 30,000 cars per annum. By 1989, they were down to about 1000 cars per annum. Just in the space of 8 years, they had undergone a massive downturn of fortunes."

Well, to compete with the increased demand, the government had to adjust its policy on importation of vehicles and the era of Tokunbo was born, which sparked a new rush for foreign-used cars that began to compete with locally-manufactured cars.

And as you might have guessed it right, tokunbo won!

Tokunbo overtook Nigerian cars thanks to the locally made plants consistently declining while the government could not deliver significant changes to cope with it for inadequate resources.

>>> Can you relate? 10 things we miss about old cars

Video: 5 affordable cars you didn't know were produced in Nigeria

5. Nowadays cars

Today, more than 70% of the cars in circulation in Nigeria are Tokunbo. These cars exist to serve the need which could not be met by the local manufacturers.

The government was usually one of the largest buyers of vehicles for official purposes. As a result of the economic crisis, the government had to allocate less to spending on vehicles and this had a huge effect on the production of cars that each plant could make.

Sadly, today only the Peugeot Assembly plant is still functioning, way below its potential. The automotive industry is at a point where the foreign used cars dominate the market for being more affordable.


The Peugeot 504 was a popular choice back in the days

On the quest to bring things back to their orders of the old days, the Nigerian hope, Innoson Motors, is trying to do what its predecessors achieved. With its policy to make cars for the Nigerian environment, its annual capacity now accomplishes 10,000 units per year.

So, now you have learned about the history of the automotive industry in Nigeria and what brought us to the current state that we find ourselves. We, at Naijauto.com, are very glad to bring to you the best pieces of news about cars, stay tuned with us for more article like this!

>>> Navigate Naijauto.com for the latest car news, car tips & advice, car prices, & reviews!

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Testimony Olajire

Testimony Olajire


Testimony Olajire is a witty and innovative content writer with Naijauto.com. He creates top quality educative content on automobiles that readers can both relate with and enjoy. He has a keen interest in understanding what lies under the hood of any car, practical driving and safety tips, automobile history and managing automobile-related businesses; all in the Nigerian context.   

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