It’s a cool, misty morning when you land at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. You have to get to your hotel in the center of the city, but between you and a bed is eight kilometers of traffic the likes of which you have never seen before. How do you brave the journey? For years, the answer would probably be a Peugeot 404 or 504 taxi. No longer, it seems.
For decades, when you called or hailed a taxi in Ethiopia, you could count on a hardy Peugeot sedan rolling up. These cars put people from Dar Es Salaam to Djibouti and from Casablanca to Cape Town on the road, often with a cabbie behind the wheel. Peugeot sedans and wagons have carried families, livestock, crops and all manner of loads across Africa for decades.
Ethiopia was no different. These Peugeots were THE choice for taxi drivers across the country, particularly in the eastern city of Harrar, where dry warm conditions were perfect for keeping the machines in working order.
But what’s changing now that’s causing Ethiopian cabbies to find a new ride? A lot, really. Ethiopia is growing and standards for all kinds of consumer goods, including cars, are increasing, and push is coming to shove, with many cabbies are finally giving up the cars they’ve lovingly kept on the road for longer than 50 years and for over a million kilometers in some cases, keeping the cars in shape with ingenuity that wouldn’t be out of place in Havana.
Increased fuel prices disproportionately effect older vehicles with less efficient powertrains like these Peugeots, so drivers look for opportunities to replace their cars with something more efficient. Additionally, these cars require a lot of upkeep and in Ethiopia, where internet penetration is still less than 20%, the paper manuals that keep these cars in shape are becoming scarce.
But there is more putting pressure on these cars than just the price of gas and the availability of relevant literature. Ethiopia is in the midst of something of a growth-spurt right now and demand is changing. Over the decade between 2006/7 and 2016/17, the World Bank reports that the country of more than 100 million’s economy has experienced average annual growth in excess of 10%.
In the past, heavy import tariffs on cars kept drivers in their vehicles for far longer than in other countries. The tariffs are still in place, but with the growth of the economy, a domestic auto sector unaffected by these duties, including a new Hyundai plant as well as a number of factories assembling Chinese cars, is providing an alternative. Now, the Peugeots have to contend with more than just share taxi vans and Indian-built tuk-tuks for competition. They’re starting to get replaced outright.
Of course, as the economy grows in this day and age, some of the other pressure on traditional modes of transportation like taxis is coming from elsewhere. While the Guardian does report that unreliable internet and the low penetration described above have limited the proliferation of ride-sharing and ride-hailing platforms in the country, a number of projects are offering up more traditional public transportation alternatives.
For example, Addis Ababa’s light rail system opened in 2015, providing an alternative to road transport in the city of 4 million’s congested center. Built with Chinese expertise (and capital), Der Spiegel reports that the system transports up to 150,000 riders each day, drastically changing the city’s transportation norms, which had been restricted to cabs, share taxis and buses until the system opened.
Still, the system’s success has been a challenge as well. Manufacturing defects and capacity issues take trains out of service on the line as built and the system still does not cover much of the city, so the taxis of Addis Ababa remain a crucial part of the transportation system.
For Peugeot, that could be a blessing. PSA, the brand’s parent company, regards the African market as one of three of the brand’s core foci, along with the South American and European markets. The company plans to sell more than 6 million cars annually in the region by 2025 and to introduce more than 20 new models for the market in the next two years. With that kind of dedication, it seems that Peugeot’s 404s and 405s might be on their way out, but the famous lion badge isn’t going anywhere from Ethiopia any time soon.