There are more than a dozen cars on both sides of the road in front of the different car modification and decoration shops around Sebara Babur area, in Gullele District. Some are dismantled and waiting for service and others are waiting their turn. Different workers, with their jumpsuits tied around their waists in the scorching sun, are going in and out of the shops with materials needed for decorating a car.
“I grew up around here and I remember the car decoration business as far back as 18 years.” says Belay Getachew, the owner of Palace Décor located in that area.
He says he jumped right into the business of construction materials six years ago after he graduated from university. However, he switched to the car decoration business after a year as the area is well known for this particular business.
There are several similar shops in the area and the business boomed in the last five years, according to Belay. He started his business with a capital of 80,000 Br which has now grown to 500,000 Br.
Car decoration businesses in Addis offer numerous services like installing mud flaps, bumper guards, gas tank covers, body polish and air fresheners.
“Seat cushions, car mats, alarms and central locks are most in demand by customers,” says Mesfin Tekleab, the general manager of Michael Car Décor, located around Fileweha area, on Yohannes Street. The company imports their materials from Dubai and China, using a credit system, as the items are expensive.
The taxes paid on the items are extremely high because they are considered as luxury items, according to Belay.
“We buy these items for reasonable prices but we are forced to sell them for much more as we pay too much tax on them,” explains Belay. “The price of cars and decoration in neighbouring countries like Kenya is much lower compared to ours.”
Although transportation problems are a big concern for the city, the price of cars is still high.
Imported vehicles may cost as much as three times the retail price of the vehicle outside of the country. Vehicle taxes in Ethiopia are sometimes more than 220pc depending on engine size, according to a study done by Deloitte two years ago, an international consulting firm.
The price of a used car in Ethiopia ranges from 125,000 Br to 840,000 Br while the price of new vehicles ranges from 250,000 Br to over 2.5 million Br, according to Mekina.net, an electronic commerce which connects car sellers and buyers.
Most people engaged in the car decor business agree on one thing – business has boomed over the past five years. Most of the car décor shops have employed at least two people.
Businesses in both areas, Fileweha and Sebara Babur, claim that they decorate a minimum of two cars a day when business is at its slowest.
“We usually get Vitz, Toyota Yaris and Toyota Corolla,” says Mesfin. “Our usual customers tend to be young people.”
Mesfin claims the car decoration business is the least challenging if you have the capital to invest. However, Siti Kemal, the owner of Siti Kemal Car Décor located around Filewha area disagrees.
“We face difficulties with the quality of the materials,” she says. “Our customers come back complaining that the components have broken and we end up replacing them.”
At least eight out of 10 vehicles imported into the country are used cars.
“Most of the cars that frequent customers buy are used cars,” says Jafar Betre, a frequent customer in one of the car decoration shops around Sebara Babur. “They need protection but also people want them to look newer.”
Ashenafi Tadesse, the host of the radio program Auto Safety, believes that the opening of new car decoration shops in places other than Sebara Babur and Filewha can be taken as an indication of the growth of this particular business.
“Added parts to the body of a car, like bumper guards and grill guards, have a tendency to be dangerous,” explains Ashenafi. “They may obscure the estimated distance when a car changes lanes and cause an accident.”
“These modifications weren’t allowed until a recent amendment to the existing regulation,” he adds.
The amendment should have classified what type of materials could be used for these additions extra body parts, according to Ashenafi. Metal is more hazardous as it causes more damage in accidents.
Another popular modification is tinted glass, which is legally prohibited, as it can obstruct the view of the driver. However, cars with tinting are still visible in the streets of Addis, even when they do not fall under the relevant exceptions.
“More caution should be taken in regulating these matters,” says Ashenafi.
However, there are those who do not see the abundance of the business.
Samson Abebe, 40, who is independently engaged in the car decoration business around Sebara Babur disagrees that this business has boomed over the past five years. He has worked in the business for 10 years and makes 50 to 100 Br a day.
“Independent labourers used to make more money per day two years ago than they do today,” he says. “More than 500 youth in the area are engaged in this business. Shops are hiring people to get around having to use independent workers to decorate the cars.”
The first automobile was brought to the country in the 20th century by Bentley from Britain during the reign of Emperor Menelik, one might observe that Ethiopia is taking a slow pace in increasing its car population. Now, the car population has reached 447,670 as of last June – 33pc higher than the previous year (the highest increase ever).
With the price and number of cars steadily increasing, it seems the demand for modification and decoration services will not slow down for a long time to come.
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