AT a time when the Nigerian Automotive Industrial Development Plan ,NAIDP, is set to commence, an indigenous vehicle manufacturing company, in a move seen as adventurous, has concluded plans to export locally manufactured cars, opening a new vista in Nigeria’s auto-market. CHARLES KUMOLU reports
WHAT was supposed to have elicited enthusiasm across Nigeria, only produced mixed feelings, as many doubted if it held any promise for the country. Indeed it was confounding that a Nigerian company venturing into vehicle manufacturing business with the prospects of redefining car ownership in the country, was not enough to inspire excitement.
The reason for this lukewarm attitude towards a development meant to re-invent the capacity of Nigeria’s automobile industry, is not farfetched: Past efforts to revive the industry through the introduction of importation policies and the National Automotive Council,NAC, among others, yielded little or no results.
But seven years after an indigenous company, Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing Company,IVM, embarked on what many had described as adventurous, there appears to be a silver lining in Nigeria’s darkened automobile industry. While it is no longer news that the 100 percent Nigerian-owned company which had its production lines officially commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, has made remarkable impressions within a short time, Vanguard Features,VF, can authoritatively report that the auto company has concluded plans to start exporting its brands.
An elated Chairman of the company, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, had this to say on the development:
‘’We are in various parts of Africa at the moment. For instance, our vehicles are now bought and sold in Ghana. We are selling in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali. In Chad, there are Innoson vehicles. And the interesting thing is that in these countries, our vehicles are so well accepted you would think we had been in the market for several decades. Their satisfaction is not just from the mere fact that we were able to give them good quality motor vehicles, but they take pride in the fact that this is an African initiative; that might be a test case for the kind of leapfrog the continent could witness if all talents are harnessed towards that purpose.” He added thus : “In other African countries where we have sold these vehicles, the joy that we have seen is greater than what was the case in our home market, Nigeria.’’
For the fact that capacity utilization in the automobile industry over the years dropped below expectation with vehicle manufacturing below 10%, the development has generated so much excitement and questions.
While the excitement was discovered to be related to the belief that the move would make car ownership easier for low and middle class Nigerians, the ensuing poser sought to know if the company had met local demands before venturing into exportation.
This question, VF gathered, was necessitated by arguments that a country of over 160 million people has about eight million vehicles with a ratio of 16 passenger vehicles for every 1000 persons. This, experts say, does not compare favourably with South Africa which has a ratio of 159 passenger vehicles for every 1000 persons.
An industry expert, Chief Chijundu Udensi, was on hand to allay the fears. Udensi, who was a top management staff of one of the defunct automobile companies in Nigeria, said there is no reason for fears that the importation would starve the auto-market market of the Innoson brand.
He told VF that what the company intends to do, is in line with the Nigerian Automotive Industrial Development Plan,NAIDP, initiated as an integral part of an elaborate design which aims to revive the auto industry by stopping dependence on importation.
‘’The transformation programme of President Jonathan’s administration has started making impact on the lives of the populace, but most importantly in the automobile sector,’’ he noted.
Udensi, who is conversant with the feat IVM had made since it came into the industry in 2007, said: ‘’It was almost unthinkable for Nigerians to dream of owning brand new cars with just one million naira, but with the recent introduction of Fox Sedan and Amazon car brands by the INNOSON Vehicles Manufacturing Company into the Nigerian and West African markets, with a minimum of one million five hundred thousand naira to three million naira, this elusive dream can materialise into reality.’’
With this roll-out, he stated that ‘’INNOSON has proven its readiness to be in the lead in supporting Federal Government’s policy on automotive sector,’’ adding that “their courageous move to initiate local manufacture of cars, trucks, buses and other brands within the country is both laudable and patriotic. It must be noted that they are the first indigenous Nigerian company to manufacture a truly indigenous brand, whereas other companies are merely replicating the monogram of other foreign brands.’’
Accordingly, he added thus: ‘’Different countries are notable with car brands as exemplified above and these brands represent the image of those countries.
In Nigeria, it is gratifying that INNOSON as the first indigenous name has chosen to make the nation proud by initiating moves to start exporting Nigeria’s brand to neighbouring African countries like Ghana, Benin Republic, Sierra Leone, Togo, Liberia, Niger, Chad and others. This is unarguably a demonstration of national pride, and for once Nigeria’s Giant of Africa status will be backed with concrete evidence of our ability as a people to expand the frontiers of human knowledge and capacity to do the unimaginable.’’
President of Auto-Mark, Mr. Tokunbo Aborishade, also did not hide his elation, as he told VF the introduction of made-in-Nigeria affordable cars would boost the country’s economy and that of other African countries. He particularly said the development was commendable considering the problems of environmental pollution which fairly used cars pose to the society.
‘’The health hazards inherent in the gaseous emissions of fairly used cars in Nigeria are obviously uncountable, but the most notable, according to health experts, is cancer of the lung. Therefore, government’s plan to gradually prohibit the importation of fairly used vehicles or what we know as “Tokunbo” will not only aid the survival of local auto manufacturing companies like INNOSON, but will help to reduce the perilous impact of hazardous environmental pollution,’’ he added.
Before now experts had argued that the auto industry in Nigeria desperately needed an overhaul after years of neglect. This was after domestic production of motor vehicles in the late 1970s through partnerships between the Nigerian government and foreign companies went comatose.
Indeed, there had been six assembly plants – two for cars and four for trucks – established between 1970 and 1980. These were Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited, PAN, in Kaduna; Volkswagen of Nigeria Limited, VWON, in Lagos; Anambra Motor Manufacturing Limited, ANAMMCO, in Emene, Enugu; Steyr Nigeria Limited (Bauchi); National Truck Manufacturers, NTM, in Kano for Fiat trucks; and Leyland Nigeria Limited in Ibadan.
Currently all the auto manufacturing plants are either moribund or on life support.