As the new Range Rover model Evoque is establishing itself on African roads and the model Evoque Convertible is making its way to African markets, this series Beyond The Drive has reached a turning point. During a year I have been covering African drivers’ serious fascination for Range Rover. Across cities and nationalities, within the upper-middle and affluent consumer groups, they told me how satisfied they are with the Range Rover experience, what it means to be an owner of a Range Rover, what it implies to be a lifetime loyal Range Rover fan. It is undoubtedly the most trusted car brand in Africa.
But sometimes even a Rover can let you down. In such circumstances, the extent to which you trust the car may become a challenge. This is the underlying question in this episode: where does this unique, extraordinary degree of trust take Range Rover owners?
We are in Pointe Noire, the Republic of Congo’s second largest city and economic pulse. I fortuitously catch a desperate driver on a single-lane road used to enter/exit the city. As the business hours come to an end, the traffic volume becomes bigger and bigger at that particular place. The car breaks down in the middle of the traffic. The driver, alone, vainly tries to fix it during endless minutes. There is no emergency road service available. No safety vest, no safety triangle, the man is risking his life as heavily loaded log trucks and container trucks pass a few centimeters from him (trucks are the second biggest cause of fatal car accidents in Congo). Once he realises the problem is too big to handle, the man leaves the car unattended. I presume he plans to return to the car later with assistance. In the Congolese context, “later” means anything from same day to a week. In innercity low-traffic streets, cars and trucks are abandoned on the roadside during months.
A finding of my research through the city is that – and it is a fact local car industry stakeholders reckon – the number of cars waiting for a repair in peoples’ backyard, on the side of the street, at auto repair shops, in wastelands, comes close to equal that of cars in circulation. There is no official data available in this matter. Waiting for a repair can take years, and as the vehicles gather dust, eventually the fix may never come in a majority of cases. The issue of abandoned cars and car wrecks in Africa is well documented, the causes are well known. A type of cars which is particularly affected by those issues is luxury cars. They are the ones for which the repair, the maintenance and other services are the costliest to owners. As a result many of them opt for what they perceive as a much more attractive decision: buying a new car or just picking another car from the garage.
At the time of writing this piece, it looks like suddenly the other Rover models except Defender have disappeared from the streets of Pointe Noire, Johannesburg, Marrakesh, and other places. Like a hit song in heavy rotation on radio, there are only Evoques in circulation. Clearly it benefits from a typical behaviour in rich consumer groups whereby peer influence is extremely powerful on decisions to adopt products. They all want Evoques.
Later on the same day, I went to check on the Range Rover above. It had gone. A safe bet is that, whilst the owner is driving a brand new Evoque, it is waiting for a repair somewhere or it is parked in good condition in the garage, waiting for a rare occasion to go out.