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Building African Cars, the Kiira Way

Published on: 15-Aug-2016

It began as an extra-curricular activity, before it became a school project, then the focal point of Uganda’s vision for industrialization and economic transformation. Now, Kiira Motors is an unfolding reality of wholly manufactured, climate friendly, innovative 21st century Made-in-Africa-by-Africans vehicles.

Indigenous automakers are on the bounce in Africa. Nigeria’s Innosson Vehicle Manufacturing Company has seen tremendous growth since its plant was commissioned by Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014. It is now the face of #BuyNaijatoGrowtheNaira, an online campaign to encourage greater consumption of local goods that has significantly boosted the car company’s sales and market exposure. Ghana’s Katanka Motors is also making waves with its radically innovative vehicles which are expected to soon threaten the country’s duopoly of foreign brands and second-hand car merchants. However, it is the emergence of Uganda’s Kiira motors that has been one of the most amazing stories of the rise of African automakers.

Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) began as a project, in 2006, by students from Uganda’s Makerere University and 24 universities and colleges across the world, to design a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. Following that three-year project, the Ugandan students decided to develop a Made in Uganda hybrid car and succeeded in producing their first prototype, the “Kiira EV”, a two seater electric car. Its success marked the official commencement, in 2011, of the Kiira Motor Corporation, an automaker funded by the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology and the Uganda Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives through the Uganda Development Corporation.

KMC have since built the Kiira EV SMACK, a five-seater sedan hybrid that uses both lithium batteries and petrol, and in February, the company unveiled its 35-seater solely solar-powered Kayoola Bus. In this interview, KMC’s Vice President (Marketing and Sales) Allan Muhumuza, shares with Ventures Africa’s Onyedimmakachukwu Obiukwu the lofty ambitions of the company, the challenges they face in achieving it and why everyone at the company is wholly positive that they will succeed.

Africa’s auto market is dominated by giant multinationals like Toyota et al, can your company break their dominance in your local market? If yes, what’s your strategy to achieve that?

The KMC value proposition is premised against the two core gaps in the industry today; affordable asset financing for vehicle financing and after-sales service and support. Our interventions will focus on closing these gaps as the key strategy for market share acquisition. From a policy perspective, it’s important that issues of technology quality especially safety and environmental protection are addressed which will inadvertently give rise to a road map winning off importation of rather obsolete vehicle technology and sub-standard spare parts. Such interventions are expected to cultivate growth of new vehicle sales. Production for export to the EAC and neighbouring regional economic communities is a key ingredient of the growth plan for sales.

There’s a lot of rave about your solar powered bus, the Kayoola. What’s the vision behind making such a unique vehicle?  

In 2009 the project embarked on designing and building the first ever electric vehicle designed and built in Africa at a University, the Kiira EV POC. This vehicle was launched by H.E. the President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on 24th November 2011. Close to the completion of the Kiira EV POC Concept Vehicle, the project embarked on an Electric Vehicle Concept for urban mass mobility with a real-time on-board solar charging system to provide clean and silent mass transportation solutions.

The aspiration for green, clean, and noise free transport solution for Urban Mass Mobility enhancing Environmental Stewardship inspired the make of a solar powered vehicle. The sustainability of Mission Vehicles Made in Uganda is based on production of eco-friendly and internationally acceptable Technology and Products for global competitiveness.

The Kiira Smack is expected to be your flagship product for the market, what are your commercial expectations of it?

Backed by our research of the regional market, our market entry product mix shall comprise of Pickups, Sedans, Crossovers and Light and Medium duty buses and trucks. The concept vehicles developed demonstrate progressive enhancement of resident capacity in vehicle manufacturing. Production of vehicles will start in 2018 with 305 rolling off the assembly line that year and by 2021 we envisage production of about 1,125 cars annually.

What are the major challenges your company faces as an indigenous auto manufacturer, and how are you overcoming these challenges?

There is need for efficiency and effectiveness in engaging development partners. Our typical processes are rather protracted and bureaucratic and do not provide a good basis for KMC to be responsive to the global automotive foresight.

There are limited local value chain actors especially in auto parts manufacturing. The development of the KMC Enterprise is expected to progressively champion demand for these automotive value chain investments in not only parts but also related services.

The Policy gaps relating to automotive standards as well as related investment incentive structures will require urgent attention in a specifically tailored Government Automotive Industry Development Plan.

The need to develop a critical mass of professionals in a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from Economics, Finance, Marketing & Sales, Law, Industrial Ergonomics, Manufacturing and Engineering to sustain the industry.


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