The management of VON Automobiles Nigeria Limited, has announced plans to roll out the first batch of locally built Ashok Leyland brand of commuter buses in December 2011, with a promise to assist Nigeria in her quest for rapid socio-economic transformation.
Mr. Tokunbo Aromolaran, Managing Director, VON Automobiles Nigeria Limited made this declaration in Lagos, when a team of auditors from the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) visited the repossessed plant to assess the extent of work.
According to a statement from the company, the plant which has been moribund for upwards of 15 years is currently been rejuvenated and retooled with modern assembly lines to produce bespoke Ashok Leyland commuter buses for local and sub-Sahara Africa markets.
Mr. Aromolaran said “We are doing everything possible to change the face of the plant and replenish all obsolete lines of the comatose company to produce made-in-Nigeria Ashok Leyland range of commuter buses.
The director described the automobile industry as a critical sector that requires fundamental approach, urging the federal government to support local production and review import tariff polices in favour of vehicle assembly plants because of their unswerving impact on the country’s economy.
While also recalling that the company inherited mere carcass of the moribund Volkswagen plant, Mr. Aromolaran said “We have since August 2011 been working round the clock to revamp the decrepit remains of the company to elevate its status to the desired standard for bus assembly.”
He said the resuscitated plant has attained 75 percent completion and would be ready in few weeks to roll out the first batch of made-in-Nigeria Ashok Leyland commercial vehicles from completely knock-down components.
“We are pleased to also announce that our company has received sizeable quantity of knockdown components from Ashok Leyland to begin the first phase of production, which expectedly, will lead to the production of the first batch of buses in few weeks time.”
He added that the company’s marketing team has commenced upbeat marketing strategies to exploit markets in the Community of West African States to boost the capacity utilization of the Lagos based plant.
VON Automobiles has install capacity for 1000 buses annually and is capable of providing job opportunities for various technicians and artisans Mr. Aromolaran said.
“Besides, we have commenced talks with local content producers whom we will be partnering with to supply locally made components in a scheduled phase substitution of imported components from Ashok Leyland India.”
“Our vision is to attain at least 75 percent local content in the next five years by gradually depleting the proportion of more than 4000 components imported from the parent plant abroad.”
Mr. Aromolaran said talks have begun to seek the consent of the Lagos State Government to endorse the assembly plant as ‘Centre for Automotive Engineering.’
He however dismissed insinuations currently making the rounds that VON Automobiles Nigeria Limited usurped some dealerships’ stakes, explaining that “In the five decades’ history of Ashok Leyland, it has never appointed an exclusive dealership for its products in any region and neither has it one in Nigeria. There are as it were, four Ashok Leyland marketers in Nigeria,” he recalled.
“If we are not in sync with Ashok Leyland, the company wouldn’t have given us kits and CKDs (Completely Knockdown Components) for our assembly plant. We have a tripartite agreement with Ashok Leyland India to assemble, distribute and provide after sales service support for her products in Nigeria.”
Mr. Nujum Riyaz, country manager, Ashok Leyland India acknowledged the joint arrangement with investors in Nigeria to localise the production of Ashok Leyland commuter buses, remarking that the buses would be forthcoming when assembled locally.
Riyaz who was one of the project managers involved in the planning and implementation of Bus Rapid Transit Scheme (BRT) in Lagos said private sector operators were carefully integrated into the scheme to make the project a viable business model for commuter bus operators. “And today, the initiative has become the toast of other West African countries.”
The Ashok Leyland country manager is currently responsible for ensuring smooth coordination and training of local manpower through overseas training in India including service training centre/driver training institute for Ashok Leyland buses in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Mr. Prakash Kharat, plant head, VON Automobiles Nigeria Limited has reaffirmed the commencement of technical training for the locals, saying, “We have started phase training of technical personnel to acquaint them with our vision and scientific proficiency to build Nigeria’s first wholly indigenous large capacity commuter buses.”
One of the plant’s motivations is to become Africa’s foremost automobile company, behind South Africa and Egypt, Mr. Kharat asserted.
He said in the next phase of production, the plant would explore the production of bespoke light commercial vehicles and saloon cars.
Some of the departments that have been completed and are in operation are the five paint booths, shower test spot, under bus test, stretch panel section, brake test porch, and the press and fibre glass shop.
Meanwhile, the construction of a network of pressure air that would serve the entire plant is also nearing completion, while the administrative quarters and cafeteria are being refurbished.
A celebrated brand, Ashok Leyland is a technology leader in the commercial vehicle industry with wide range of commercial vehicles including 18-seater to 82-seater double-decker buses with 2.5 tonne and 49 tonne haulage vehicles.
Ashok Leyland buses are also fêted for better fuel economy, more kilometre per changed parts, proactive after sales back-up and low initial purchase price advantage.
No fewer than 520 units of Ashok Leyland Falcon City buses are currently in operation in Nigeria.
They include the 220 Falcon city buses in the Bus Rapid Transit mass transit fleet in Lagos State and LAGBUS Bus Franchise Schemes. Others are in various locations including Port-Harcourt and Abuja, Federal Capital.
Cruz hits millionth sales as Chevrolet mark 100 year