While wealthier countries around the world transition to EVs, that transition comes with a little known and hardly talked about side effect: just where do all the old gas cars go when people make the swap to EVs? While some end up back in circulation on the used car market, CNN reports that most of the others turn up in poorer West African countries where they’re bought for cheap.
West African countries such as Benin and Ghana have been receiving older vehicles, mostly from the U.S., for years. Benin for instance is one of Africa’s top importers of used vehicles from other parts of the world. The trend has sped up in recent years as EVs have gained traction and governments around the world pass laws banning ICE vehicles. And as more and more people trade in their older gas vehicles for new EVs, dealers are starting not to not want the cars either. It’s caused a used car export boom in coastal places like New York and Florida.
In states like New York and Florida, where consumers are buying more EVs, dealers are increasingly looking overseas as a place to sell their older gas-powered models, according to Matt Trapp, a regional vice president at the huge auto auction company Manheim.
Those states also have robust port operations, making them an ideal place to ship used cars to Africa. “It’s setting up a really complementary dynamic,” Trapp told CNN.
“I’m not surprised to see how robust the export game is becoming,” Trapp said. “We’re going to see this dynamic more and more. When [auto dealers] see demand in other markets, they will find a way to move the metal there.”
Worse yet, these vehicles pollute worse in Africa than they did in their home countries. One car dealer in Nigeria was noted as saying to CNN that “the cars that smoke are mostly from the U.S.” Because the rare metals that catalytic converters contain fuel a worldwide black market, they’re often removed from the vehicles before they’re shipped or after they arrive in Africa.
Something needs to be done. The United Nations Environment Program has been working with U.S. and European officials on regulations that would do something about shipping these older polluting cars to the African continent. But officials say the talks are in early stages and have yet to net any results. Others are hoping that EVs eventually make their way to Africa, but major changes would need to implemented, mainly in regards to infrastructure.
Until something is done, the world really can’t sit back and celebrate EVs and gas engine bans until every corner of the globe has access to clean emission free vehicles. Moving old, polluting vehicles from one place to another ultimately solves nothing.