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THE KENYAN CAR MANUFACTURING BUSINESS

The Beginnings:

VW Beetle

Back in the 1960’s when Jomo Kenyatta presided over Kenya, Volkswagen, the people’s car manufacturer, set up the first assembly plant to make the VW Beetle wholly in Kenya. The Beetle had been designed back in the 1930’s by Ferdinand Porsche to be economic, rugged, spacious and simple to repair, and such was its popularity it was still made (albeit in South America) up until 2003, amassing total worldwide sales in excess of 21m units. Moreover, the Beetle was ideally suited to the harsh African climate with its reliable air-cooled engine.
Whilst the assembly plant model meant that any ultimate profits went back to the parent company in Germany, the site was built with minimal cost to the Government, and the gains were substantial. Employment, training in new skills, and a host of new businesses which grew up to supply the plant, additional tax revenue and an ultimately cheaper product for the consumer made the industry a win-win proposition.
The 1970’s
During the 1970’s two more significant players joined the fledgling Kenya car industry, the Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers (KVM) and Associated Vehicle Assemblers Ltd (AVA) Both of these companies were largely interested in heavy machinery, both road, and, off road. Whilst cars were fine for mobilizing the general population there was another need; to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, and that required heavier machinery. Trucks, coaches, diggers, tractors etc. are all produced to this day from these two companies.
Whilst KVM and AVA were true Kenyan companies most of their work was involved in modifying other company vehicles for the `Kenyan terrain. There was still no all-Kenya designed and built vehicle company.
The Nyayo Pioneer

Nyayo Pioneer

The change occurred in 1986 when the president, Daniel Arap Moi commissioned the ‘Nyayo’ all Kenyan car. It started with a request from President Moi for the University of Nairobi’s Engineering Dept to design a car from scratch allegedly with the proviso “however ugly or slow” It was not a great starting position.
Equally as damaging to the overall project was the multiple suppliers who were brought in to make the first cars, military bases, the university, and Kenya Railways workshops all had a hand in making parts for the ill-fated project.
Eventually in 1990 after 4years and 250m KES of public funds, the first prototypes went on display. The Pioneer was not so ugly, having a nod in styling to the 1980 Toyota Corolla, and it wasn’t so slow, hitting 120km/hr on a test run on the Mombasa road, but at its first showing at the Kasarani Sports Complex, it failed to make a lap of the 400m track.Reliability was clearly going to be an issue. However, undeterred President Moi insisted it went into full production.
The 7.8billion KES required for full production never materialized. The Nyayo Motor Corporation (NMC) started production but never got into full manufacture neither was it fully self-sufficient with only 60% of the car being truly“home-made”.
Without the backup funding, the project faltered and eventually closed, and that should have been the end of it but as recently as 2010 the NMC (now the Numerical Machining Complex) were threatening to revive the project, lets hope that common sense prevails.


Mobius
The Mobius represents Kenya’s second attempt at producing a fully home-grown motor vehicle from scratch. The vehicle is the brainchild of Joel Jackson a 32y old, British graduate, who, whilst working in Kenya saw the need for affordable transport in rural areas. Mobius is sponsored by Ronald Lauder (heir to the Estee Lauder empire) through his Pan-African Investment Company (PIC) The first iterations were utilitarian and had limited appeal but with more development capital the Mobius 2 was born with the same basic ruggedness strength and clearance as the earlier models coupled to a more conventional body, which some have likened to the slab-sided Landrover Discovery3. Sales of Mobius 2 are already oversubscribed for its first batch of 50 vehicles prompting a further 50 to go into assembly, whilst the first series sold out of a 50 production run in Aug 2016.The production itself is not undertaken by Mobius, that would have been a step too far in investment (as discovered by GOK with the Nyayo) and also a distraction. Whilst Mobius Motors conceived, designed, tested perfected, markets and sell the Mobius, the assembly is by KMV of Thika.
The Mobius II generation, which comes in three models, is expected to hit the road this year with its most expensive unit (Mobius Adventure Plus) retailing at Sh1.58 million, inclusive of tax.

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