Despite economic growth over the past decade, Africa currently produces less than 1% of the world’s manufactured goods. This depressing figure can be partly the fault of African governments who have failed to formulate industrial polices capable of encouraging home-grown industrial projects. Africa is blessed with a myriad of raw materials, including silver, petroleum, iron, cobalt, copper and bauxite, most of which are hardly harnessed and mostly exported in raw form. Fortunately, an increasing number of African countries are taking a jab at building their automotive manufacturing industries.
So far, there are four up and coming automobile manufacturing companies in Africa that are making promising progress towards creating vehicles for the African consumer markets. These companies include, Kiira Motors Corporation from Uganda, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company in Nigeria, Mobius Motor in Kenya and Kantanka Automobile Company in Ghana. Ugandan’s Kiira EV SMACK is expected to hit the market in 2018, while Nigeria’s IVM Fox and IVM UMU are already in production. The Ghanaians automobile company has pushed back its cars commercial release dates pending approval from the Ghana Standards Authority. Finally, Kenya’s Mobius Motors is also expected to begin mass production of its Mobius II in April this year.
To say that the automobile manufacturing industry has struggled in Africa would be an understatement. The Nyayo Pioneer car can best illustrate the failure of Africa’s attempts to build its own cars in the past. The Pioneer was meant to be Africa’s first independently developed car, a vision of then Kenya’s President Daniel Arap Moi in 1986. With encouragement from Daniel Arap Moi, the goal was to develop a car built in Kenya to be sold affordably to the population. In the words of Daniel Arap Moi, the ultimate goal was to build a car, “however ugly or slow it may be.”
After four years, the University of Nairobi developed five prototypes, a pickup, a five-door sedan, a sedan with a trunk, a sports coupe and a rally version. However, it was an engineering disaster and the cars never saw production. Not only was it its appearance and design that contributed to its failure, but also embezzlement of funds and corruption.
Fast forward to 2015, another effort to manufacture a wholly Kenyan car is slowly gathering pace. Mobius has already surpassed its predecessor in terms of design and production, as fifty cars have already been built, each selling at around 950,000 shillings ($10,500) before tax. Mobius Motors benefited from investments from American billionaire Ronald Lauder, and have used this investment to develop Mobius II. For Mobius Motors, the dream is to produce a cost-effective simple car for the African market. Setting the project in Africa will enable the company to focus on what rural Africans need. The car (Mobius II) will have about 45 percent local content, the engines and some other parts will be imported from aboard.
Still, there are many challenges ahead for Mobius Motors and the rest of Africa’s automobile industries. There is still a general perception among Africans that Africans cannot manufacture good cars. There is also intense competition from imported cars. The Mobius II is meant for the middle class to low end consumer market in Kenya.
Naturally, the success of these made-in-Africa cars will depend on Africans and their willingness to buy locally manufactured cars. Industry experts say that pricing of these locally manufactured cars will also be a determinant factor in their success.