By Silvia Nyambura and John Njoroge
The Kiira Motors Project, a Presidential Initiative for Science and Technological Innovations, is currently in its advance stages of unveiling a new prototype vehicle, a commuter bus, the CEO Magazine can exclusively reveal.
In support of this new venture, government has, with immediate effect, set aside 100 acres of land at the Jinja Industrial Business park for the Kiira Motor Project. The land is already in the hands of the project officials.
Although details are still scanty, the CEO Magazine can also reveal that government has additionally provided land to another Chinese company, also intending to produce light commercial vehicles in Uganda.
This Ugandan designed vehiclebecomes the 3rd vehicle in a series of concept being developed by the Kiira Motors Projectpotentially for the region’sautomobile industry.
The design process
The CEO Magazine has obtained details revealing how designers and enginners at the Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) have, in the past two years, been working on this third concept.
The soon to be finished vehicle seen by this Magazine is a 35 seater, solar electric powered bus designed with zero tail pipe emission and a range of 80 kilometers before recharging. It is fitted with latent range extension for real time charging, enabled by a roof mounted solar panels.
The project’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Mr Paul Isaac Musasizi, says the new vehicle design is made of very basic raw materials
Bus Design structure
“We have used plastics, leather, fibers and metals. The transformation process of those materials is what we are currently in charge of. Our role is to design and do the engineering and then source the materials from those that have them,” he says.
Project officials are hoping to grow the regional automotive industry to make vehicle parts readily available in Uganda for the region by 2018.
Mr Musasizi, says the project also seeks to compete in an industry where imported vehicles are the common practice.
“We use cars so it is only reasonable that we make them. We do not plan to reinvent the wheel, but instead would like to see how we plug into the global automotive industry and leverage that experience to boost development,” he says.
“The most important thing is to get the down stream opportunities of the automotive industry and build a brand,” he adds.
In the recent weeks, this magazine has had excluvise access to the designers and the actual vehicle, now nearing completion.
Three years ago, students from Makerere University unveiled Uganda’s first locally manufactured motor vehicle dubbed the “Kiira EV”.
Costing an estimated US$ 35,000, the vehicle is purely electric and a two seater. It too has a range of 80 kilometers before it requires recharging.
In 2014, KMC unveiled the Kiira Smack Hybrid, a five-seater sedan with a fuel tank that can give drivers highway distance of 508 kilometers at 70 kilometers per hour. It also has a 50 kilometers capacity on its battery.
Mr Musasizi reveals that the new landgives the project more space and much needed privacy to carry outits operations.
“As an industry we are part of the economic transformation of Uganda.The Kiira series of vehicles were developed with the purpose of proving Uganda is capable of being a key player in the industry. They are not meant to be used or sold to the the public, they are concept vehicles. All over the world, car manufacturers develop show cars meant to motivate industries to be innovative. They are not meant to be used but often there are concepts about them that are incorporated in later operational versions,” he says.
Growing a region based automotive industry
Mr Musasizi explains the automotive industry is made up of several tiers, including parts manufacturing, automotive manufacturing, automotive selling, servicing and maintenance.
Each of these, he says, are fully fledged industries on their own.
“The most common tier in Uganda is theautomotive selling and maintenance. This involves selling imported cars. This is where most of the money that supports the automotive industry comes from,” Mr Musasizi says.
Suppliers aredirectly linked to manufacturers and provide components used to make the vehicle. India is currently one of the biggest parts manufacturers in the world while in the United States, the suppliers industry employs over 700,000 people. Under this tier Uganda has the likes of Uganda Batteries and other upcoming micro players.
Regulatory and financing framework
Despite the infancy of the automobile industry in the region, there is need for regulation, enabling the creation of standards to ensure the safety of the cell and reliability of the production.
Continous financial support from the government is also needed in the initial stages since this is a capital intensive venture. In 2016, Uganda’s parliament will be engaged at a higher level to gunner support, using past achievement of this project as a benchmark.Partnerships with other well developed industries will also go a long way in growing the industry.
Mr Musasizi affirms that the company will produce its first operational vehicle fleets by 2018.These will be conventional vehicles that will run with an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE).
“We have a memorandum of understanding with Ashok Leyland, an Indian Automotive company to produce heavy commercial vehicles like buses and trucks,” he says.
According to Mr Musasizi, once production begins, the biggest challenge will be, as he put it,“economic colonialism”.
“We need to transform ourselves from colonized to liberated minds. It takes individual efforts to believe in a different Uganda. The fact that this industry has been pioneered is a show of confidence in the country’s potential. We are building on a heritage,” he says.
Nyambura is a senior journalist based in Kampala