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Africa a surprising new market for luxury cars

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Porsches, Range Rovers and even Maseratis ... luxury cars are no strange sight weaving through the old bangers that rumble along Abidjan's chaotic streets, another indication of the emergence of a wealthy class in Africa.

Each of the vehicles costs at least tens of thousands of euros, representing decades of work for an Ivorian earning the minimum wage, even after it was recently hiked 60 percent to 60,000 CFA francs (around US$125) a month.

Yet in wealthy Abidjan neighborhoods the streets are jammed with more luxury autos than in rich quarters of European capitals.

It's the same story in Johannesburg, Lagos, or even Libreville. In the Gabonese capital it is common to see SUV after SUV snaking along the oceanside boulevard.

Wealthy Africans love the big, high, four-wheel drive vehicles.

Not only are they better adapted to the roads, regularly in a poor condition, they have also become something of a status symbol.

In Gabon, 70 percent of the 6,000 new vehicles sold each year are big 4x4s, mostly Japanese models, according to the Gabonese Federation of Car Importers.

“Here, its a 4x4 or nothing,” said one car importer who declined to give his name. For the Gabonese, the SUV has become “the symbol of success, much more than a house.”

In Ivory Coast, luxury cars make up only 3 percent of the 8,000 new cars sold each year, said one industry expert who asked to remain anonymous.

“However certain customers are looking for the top of the line — “bling-bling” cars — there are people with money like that in the market,” he added.

But the high taxes slapped on new cars have given the second-hand car market a boost. A significant proportion of luxury cars enter the country this way from Europe, the United States and even the Middle East.

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A Range Rover car sits on a street in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast on Dec. 19. The growing prevalence of luxury cars signals the emergence of a wealthy class in Africa.

(AFP)

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