JOHANNESBURG: Toyota, the Japanese automaker, is planning a shift in focus in Africa, placing a greater emphasis on the consumer market rather than trying to secure government business.

Johan van Zyl, Toyota Africa's CEO, said that "in many countries, now consumer marketing is becoming very important." Speaking at the Reuters Africa Investment Summit, he also warned against underestimating the continent's consumers. 

"People tend to think if you sell things to Africa, you can sell them inferior things," he observed. "I think that will be the biggest mistake you can make. The consumer in Africa is as much aware of quality as anybody else," he added.

Van Zyl remains unconcerned about growing competition from budget Chinese and Indian manufacturers in Africa, saying that Toyota's Etios brand is targeted at cost-conscious drivers, and is selling at the rate of about 2,000 units a month.

Toyota, which has a presence in 54 African countries and takes a 14% market share across the continent, is expecting auto markets in East and West Africa to grow by up to 5% this year.

But the South African market may pose challenges. A new survey indicated that in the first quarter of 2013, consumer confidence in the nation had fallen to its lowest level in nine years, a trend that is likely to have an impact on household spending. 

The chief economist at First National Bank, which helped compile the survey, noted that a "combination of deteriorating real disposable income growth, slower credit extension and higher prices for imported durable goods probably persuaded many consumers to postpone their durable goods purchases".

Data sourced from Reuters, Business Day; additional content by Warc staff