Interview:  Naohiro Masuda

How do you assess the automotive industry following the Covid-19 pandemic and other economic challenges in recent years?

NAOHIRO MASUDA: During periods of civil conflict or economic disruption, it is difficult for consumers to make large purchases. As we move beyond the pandemic and instability in the past decade, consumers are beginning to have a higher level of financial certainty, resulting in consumer confidence. Economic growth and new job opportunities in Misrata and Libya have increased car sales. Underpinned by this economic growth, there is also a significant unmet demand for vehicles. The priority of the sector is to be able to meet this domestic demand and to be able to effectively provide the necessary maintenance and customer service after the purchase.

What steps can be taken to strengthen the automotive industry along the value chain?

MASUDA: The Port of Misrata and the Misurata Free Zone provide the city with industrial and manufacturing infrastructure for a growing automotive sector, which is predicated on assembly and maintenance. The free zone and port allow for efficient import and export of critical automotive parts. Other infrastructure like power and utilities is also available, as are the road networks that allow for vehicle distribution. That being said, there is room to improve the infrastructure that manufacturers and industry rely on, which will positively impact growth.

In the long term, Libya has the potential to serve markets like Niger and Chad, and to become competitive with other automotive industry centres in North Africa. However, this will require investment not only in building the knowledge base and strengthening infrastructure, but also in enhancing the regulatory framework to incentivise investment and reduce bureaucratic hurdles. These are challenges that all economies face, but in Misrata the sector is witnessing momentum behind progressive reforms, fuelling optimism about the market’s potential.

In what ways can the private sector contribute to developing a skilled workforce and talent pool?

MASUDA: Talent and training are vital factors in building and developing the industry in Misrata, and it is an area where the private sector can play a key role. Libya has an abundant labour force to recruit from and a growing number of graduates with an excellent foundational education. Still, the challenge is building the experience, technical skills and knowledge that a developed automotive industry requires.

The automotive sector centres around assembly, sales and distribution, maintenance and customer service; therefore, when a customer buys a car, they must have access to quality customer service. To ensure this, firms must develop their own training programmes to facilitate knowledge transfer from the global base of expertise to the local talent pool. Over time, as employees receive training and build experience, they can work at other companies or start their own maintenance and repair businesses, which in turn strengthens the local ecosystem of automotive knowledge. Having this knowledge base will allow the industry to grow and expand to keep up with demand and enable the industry to increase local assembly and manufacturing capacity.

Economic development and social prosperity rely on the youth and their active engagement in productive jobs. Hence, Misrata and Libya’s economic future depends on the training and experience of the workforce. The private sector is at the centre of this, working together with the government as well as international organisations like the UN Development Programme to build the framework for a robust training infrastructure.