Spotlight On Uganda’s Kiira Motors, One Of Africa’s Rising Automakers

Spotlight On Uganda’s Kiira Motors, One Of Africa’s Rising Automakers

How did a school project became the focal point of Uganda’s vision for economic transformation?

Uganda’s Kiira Motors has been one of the most amazing stories of the rise of African automakers, Ventures Africa reports.

Made in Africa by Africans, Kiira has produced eco-friendly vehicles including a two seater electric car, a five-seater sedan hybrid that uses both lithium batteries and gas, and a 35-seater solar-powered bus.

Africa’s small new car market is dominated by giant global automakers like Toyota. Used cars dominate African roads.

In 2014, roughly 1.9 million new vehicles were registered in Africa for 1.1 billion inhabitants, according to Best Selling Cars Blog. That’s just 1.67 new vehicle per 1,000 people, compared to 2.56 in India and 18.16 in China. Geographically, the market distribution is uneven: eight out of 10 new cars are sold in just four countries — South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. The remaining 50 African countries in 2014 recorded less than 400,000 registrations for new car sales.

It is in this environment that made-in-Africa auto makers are trying to compete.

Kiira is not the only indigenous automaker making radically innovative vehicles in Africa.

Ghana’s Katanka Motors is taking on the dominant foreign brands and second-hand cars dealers, according to Ventures Africa.

Nigeria’s Innosson Vehicle Manufacturing Company has seen huge growth since its plant was commissioned by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014. It is now the face of #BuyNaijatoGrowtheNaira, an online campaign to encourage Nigerians to buy local that has boosted the auto company’s sales and market exposure.

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Kiira Motors Corporation began as a 2006 project by students from Uganda’s Makerere University and 24 universities and colleges across the world to design a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, according to Ventures Africa. Following that three-year project, the Ugandan students developed a made-in-Uganda hybrid car prototype, the “Kiira EV”, a two seater electric car. Its success marked the official start of the Kiira Motor Corporation in 2011. The automaker was funded by the Ugandan government.

Kiira has since built the Kiira EV SMACK, a five-seater sedan hybrid that uses both lithium batteries and petrol, and in February, the company unveiled its 35-seater solely solar-powered Kayoola Bus.

Allan Muhumuza, Kiira’s vice president of sales and marketing, talked to Ventures Africa about why everyone at the company is positive that they will succeed.

Kiira will succeed because it plans to fill gaps in the African auto industry for vehicle financing and after-sales service and support, Muhumuza said. The company “will focus on closing these gaps as the key strategy for market share acquisition,” he told Ventures Africa. Production for export to the East African Community is a key ingredient of the growth plan for sales.

Vehicle production is expected to start in 2018 with 305 units. By 2021, the company hopes to produce 1,125 cars annually.

Challenges facing an indigenous auto manufacturer

There are limited local auto parts manufacturers and policy gaps relating to automotive standards. There’s also an absence of investment incentive structures, and Uganda needs a government automotive industry development plan, Muhumuza told Ventures Africa.

The local industry also needs to develop a critical mass of professionals in a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from economics, finance,and sales and marketing to law, industrial ergonomics, manufacturing and engineering to sustain the industry.

This initiative has evolved from a university extra-curricular activity into a national program for industrialization contributing to the strategic transformation of Uganda into a middle income economy by 2040, Muhumuza said.

Here’s what’s Kiira Motors has accomplished so far:

  • Kiira Motors has so far developed three concept vehicles: The Kiira EV (2011), the Kiira EV SMACK (2014) and the Kayoola Solar Bus (2016).
  • The government provided 100 acres of land provided for the Kiir plant.
  • Some pre-site development has been completed.
  • Key staff were trained in vehicle engineering and manufacturing at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn Michigan, USA; Centre for Automotive Research Ohio State University, Ohio, USA; Kettering University, Flint, Michigan, USA (Former General Motors Institute) and other places.