West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

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The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

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It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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