‘Made-In-Africa’ Car Craze Catches On

‘Made-In-Africa’ Car Craze Catches On

In mid-November, Uganda’s first locally manufactured car went on display ahead of its planned commercial production in 2018. The car named ‘Kiira EV SMACK’ manufactured by Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) is now seeking potential investors to help it raise $350 million in addition to a $70 million commitment from government to invest in the project.

Uganda is not alone in this foray to manufacture the continent’s first car. In Kenya Mobius Motors, a vehicle that its manufacturers says is fit for the rough terrains of the continent is making its initial batch of 50 cars after it received support from American billionaire Ronald Lauder.

Similarly in Nigeria, Africa largest economy, Innoson Vehicles Company  has just produced the first made-in-Nigeria-vehicles named IVM Fox and IVM UMU.

But why this rush to reinvent a wheel that has already been tried and tested by the Toyota’s, volkswagen’s and Jeep’s of this world?

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, we are just trying to make … one that is a bit tougher,” Aman Ghai, a sales manager at Nairobi-based Mobius Motors told Reuters.

“The challenge is basically overcoming that fear that Africans can’t manufacture. We have all the resources here. We have the talent pool here. It is just getting over the fear,” he added.

But this is not the first time Kenya has tried to manufacture its own vehicles.

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In the late 80’s, the then President Daniel Moi ordered the country’s  leading University of Nairobi to come up with a car, “however ugly or slow it may be”. And sure enough, the engineers went to work and the car, named ‘Nyayo Pioneer’, rolled off the production lines in 1990.

An Engineering Disaster

The Nyayo Pioneer was an engineering disaster to say the least. It could not even ignite during the presidential launch and led to a rather gruesome public inquiry.

Fast forward to 2006, a few Ugandan students from the University of Makerere, inspired by a project to design a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle they participated in at the famed US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), decided to take on the task of developing a ‘Made-In-Uganda’ hybrid car.

Theirs has been a venture with considerable success compared to Nyayo Pioneer and also attracted the support of the Ugandan government, which has helped set up Kiira KMC on a 100 acre land at the Jinja Industrial and Business Park. The motor company plans to produce 300 – 840 saloons and other models a year from mid-2018.

“The Kiira Motors project is the brainchild of university research, which has been the model for innovations and economic growth in the developed countries,” said Uganda’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Angelina Wapakhabulo, at the unveiling. “This project will impact the economic reforms that are currently being undertaken in the respective East African partner states.”

These made-in-Africa cars are however not going to have it easier in the local markets that have already been flooded by cheaper imported cars from Europe and Asia. Consumer preference will also be another nut to crack, with many buyers preferring known brands from the Western and Asian markets.

Industry experts says pricing of these locally manufactured car will  be key to their success.

Kenya’s Mobius retail price set at about $10,000 is almost at par with most imported cars making quality and features such as fuel consumption, availability of spare parts and after-sales service critical for consumer buy-in.