What Is The Future Of Motoring Journalism in Kenya?

Someone in my social media circles recently posited a thought-inspiring question: what is the future of motoring journalism in Kenya? Well, I don’t know, since I’m not a journalist. I think motoring journalism is a bit weak given the caliber of gophers sent by various media houses to cover automotive events (95% of these people know precious little about the subject matter, sad to say); however, generation of car-related content is not – and there are more of us along this non-journalist line, and my compadres have been making serious inroads on various platforms as far as generating content is concerned. And that is what I do: generate content aimed at or about the motoring industry. I am a columnist, not a journalist (nor am I a mechanic, just to be clear); and this is what my immediate past has looked like:

May 28th 2017: WE HEAD TO THE LAKESIDE FOR THE GREAT RUN XI

Just outside of Nandi Hills town, as you head southwest towards Chemelil, is a road that could easily qualify as a petrolhead’s dream – smooth, well marked (for the most part), curvy, winding with corners of both varying and non-constant radii – save for a few situational hazards: the corners are blind, there is little or no runoff in case you overcook it, the drops off the side are sheer and worst of all, it is two-way, so gunning it in an apex-to-apex full-throttle waltz is a big no-no lest you introduce yourself face-first into the radiator of an unwitting oncoming fellow road user.

There are lessons that can only be learnt out there through experience; and while some are hard and painful and typically involve outlawed speeds, some are inevitable and will soon be etched indelibly in one’s driving psyche irrespective of prevailing velocities. One of these lessons is on brake fade, and there is no better (or worse, depending on what section of the lecture theatre you are occupying) road to teach this than the snaking, sinuous tarmac deep in the Rift Valley I have briefly described above.

A steep gradient, the blind and progressively sharp corners and the congenital instinct of self-preservation will cause any driver with substance between his ears to drop anchor every so often; with inexperienced helmsmen making the rookie mistake of riding their brakes all the way down, and it is a long way down. The brakes will heat up. Once they get hot enough, they will stop working properly. This is made obvious to the driver by the gradual reduction and subsequent inaction of the brake pedal as flexing of the right foot on the fat boot fails to produce tangible results. The speed piles on. Glutes clench. Palms sweat. Teeth grit. Hearts pound. Muscles contract. Pupils dilate. Veins pop. The speed piles on some more. There isn’t much one can do besides look for a soft landing as one rapidly sweeps past a well kept vintage Peugeot 504, sails over a sleeping policeman smacking the car’s underbelly on the swollen asphalt, ripping open the oil sump and spilling its guts all over the road before grinding to a bone-shaking halt several yards down the path. I hope you have stopped trembling by now, sir. That was a close one.

That was just but one of the highlights of the Great Run XI, which saw us leave Nairobi from Mombasa Road, tear through the Southern Bypass, join the A104 and take it all the way past Nakuru and on to Burnt Forest where we turned left, into Kapsabet, past Nandi Hill, hit Chemelil – pun intended – and on to Awasi, Ahero and finally Kisumu. This was a different kettle of fish altogether, again pun intended. It may have been our eleventh outing (yaay!) but it was our first sojourn to the lakeside city.

As has now become the norm, there was quite the welcoming committee awaiting us at the other end. Some may be from the controversial political class (local MCAs or aspirants thereof) while others are from the world of celebrity: an actress with Kenyan roots won an Oscar and her mum* graced our event.

(*Thank you for hosting us at Korando, Mrs. Nyong’o.  Rest assured we will brag about this for several years to come…

As for Mama Dolphin, keep up the good work. It is people like you who make the world a better place.

 -The Great Run)

June 4th 2017: WE HEAD TO EUROPE ON AN EXTENDED TOUR OF IVECO’S MANUFACTURING PLANTS

The tour saw us visit the European hubs of Milan, Brescia and Madrid in Italy and Spain respectively where we got a chance to interview some head honchos on what Iveco’s intentions are, and I can’t really print the outcome of those interviews here because they will read like a sponsored documentary feature and this newspaper has something we call “editorial policy”. These interviews, can, however, be found on my website in both prose form and as an audio file.

What I can say is: Iveco is coming. They intend to open an assembly line in Mombasa in or by September – my guess is this will be based at AVA plant the way Volkswagen based their Polo-building shed at KVM – and they are not afraid of any railways, irrespective of gauge. . They will still build and sell trucks here in Kenya, train or no train. How they intend to do battle against Scania, Mercedes-Benz and MAN, the three established and dominant heavy commercial forces in the country, forms part of the content of that interview, so perhaps you really should drop by my site for a look-see-hear. Hurrah for industrial growth!

This was not the only interview held. There was another one…

June 22nd 2017: WE HEAD TO THE INTERNET TO HOLD AN EXTREMELY SHORT INTERVIEW WITH AN INSURANCE COMPANY

I am sure most of us have questions for our insurance companies, and I’m no different. So when I recently got an opportunity to act as inquisitor to one such outfit, these were the queries at the forefront of my mind-brain:

(Disclaimer: for the sake of full disclosure and maintenance of journalistic standards, I have to quote my source verbatim. My source is one Vincent Munderu, a PR account executive speaking on behalf of Resolution Insurance.

Second disclosure is Resolution were kind enough to ask if I needed resolution – pun intended in every way – of any qualms I had about insurance and I said yes)

 

  1. What, exactly, is “excess”? Why should I pay it? I already pay premiums, how come instead of compensation in case of an accident I’m required to pay yet more money?

 

Excess is the first amount of each claim borne by the insured. It is simply the amount you have to pay towards a motor claim.

Insurance companies charge excess to avoid being bogged down by minor/petty claims which are in most cases equivalent to administrative costs.

Charging excess also eliminate the customers’ moral hazard by ensuring they are more careful when insured.

It also helps to prevent minor fraud which can be committed by the insured.

 

  1. I have heard some stories going round about how some of the things I do to my car may void the insurance: things like installing spacers or modifying the engine. Do you have a complete (or nearly complete) list of these warranty-voiding adjustments?

 

Modifications are changes to the insured car’s standard specification and this includes optional extras. The insured has to inform the insurance company immediately any important changes affecting the vehicle(s) insured. If communicated early, the insurer may clarify to the insured those which affect the risk or not and put measures in place to cater for these.

 

Examples of modifications include but are not restricted to changes to the appearance and/or the performance of the insured car. For instance,  Wheels (e.g. Alloy wheels/rims) suspension, Bodywork, engine replacement, under body neon, loud exhaust, super dark tint, rolling coal, Bull bars and changes made to your car by the previous owner(s) among others.

 

  1. Recently I was told that the windscreen of a passenger bus may cost as much as KES 300,000 to replace. Given the vagaries and hardships that PSVs go through, said rumor alleges that there is a company that has two insurance policies for the same vehicle: one covering the vehicle itself and another one specifically for the windscreen. Care to shed some light on this? Does this mean I can cover parts of a car other than or alongside the entire vehicle?

 

Windscreen cover is not always automatically insured under a motor insurance policy but comes as an additional benefit at a specified limit particularly on a comprehensive policy and as an optional extra (Rarely) on stand alone or Third Party/ Third Party Fire & Theft policy.

 

One does not need to cover parts of a car under different policies.

 

  1. Related to 3 above: what are some of the unusual policies that insurance companies issue? Things like protection against riots and/or random acts of God.

 

There are a number of extensions/additions which insurance companies issue to enhance the standard motor policies.

They include among others; Political Violence and Terrorism (PVT), Personal Accident insurance for insured and spouse, Courtesy car (Loss of use), Forced ATM Withdrawal in case of hijack, alternative accommodation, Medical expenses, Entertainment unit, loan repayment etc.

It is important to note that these additions are at a specified limit agreed upon in advance and some have got financial implications in terms of premium.

 

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So I can insure my car radio…Hmm. Very interesting.  Just before this interview I was made privy to a motor claims report from the first quarter of 2017 that sheds quite some light on motor trends (wink, wink) in Kenya. You people crash a lot.

 

By “you people”, I mean drivers of Toyota cars based in and around Nairobi. Of the 99 cars covered by my interviewee that had accidents, 59 were Toyotas. They consistently consisted of more than half the statistics on a month-on-month basis, delving deep into the double digits while the next common brand (Nissan) trailed them with a maximum of 4 in January and one each in subsequent months. I know “the car in front is always a Toyota”, and I said so is the one behind and the one you probably are in as well, but this is just ridiculous. Do we really have 15 times more Toyotas than we do Nissans on the roads, assuming the accidents are a reflection of density distribution based on brand?

 

The claims were ruthless as well: Nairobi led with KES 14.6 million (and 24 cents, ha-ha), substantially gapping the second placed coastal city which had a mere 1.9 million to its name. See what I meant by Toyota-driving Nairobi dwellers crash a lot?

(Full Disclosure #3: There was an entry at the bottom of the page labeled “Nation” with a KES 4.16 million claims figure against it, more than twice the amount in the entire coastal region. I don’t know what it means but I hope it doesn’t mean I’m fired for snitching on my paymasters).

There is a temptation to ask what the need for insurance is, besides abiding by the law and keeping one’s tail out of jail. Sure, we never know when disaster strikes, but what are the odds of that happening? It does make sense to insure a public service vehicle, both from statistical and anthropological points of view: they are exposed to more traffic, travel longer distances, undergo harder use and are driven by people of questionable sanity in some cases (Route 125), so their case is open and shut. But what about my second hand Honda Civic? I drive it two hours a day in areas of high traffic discipline certainty and I keep sober, so what is the cover for, you ask?

You never know, that is the answer. Some policies include repairs as part of the cover, and until you have to pay out of your own pocket for a headlamp on one of these new-fangled vehicles running around, you will never know how much these things can really cost (some dip into six-figure territory).

 

July 12th 2017: WE HEAD TO SOUTH AFRICA TO PUT THE NEW LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 5 THROUGH ITS PACES

The more keen among you may notice that the date here lies not in the past, but in the future. Keep an eye peeled for the rundown on what the new car brings to the table.

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So this is what motoring “journalism” boils down to: hours spent on the internet reading irrelevant material (there is a 1:1 scale McLaren sports car that weighs two tons and cannot move, mostly because it is made entirely of Lego bricks), hours spent thinking about what to write, a few minutes spent writing and some days spent “in the field”, – which  mostly involves interviews that threaten to send the involved parties to sleep – before bankrupting oneself on extensive road trips and/or patting oneself on the back once that manufacturer’s invite comes through the mailbox informing you that you will once again be flying free of charge to a picturesque corner of the globe to sleep on expensive bed sheets and dine on exotic fare before helming the tiller of a car that you will probably never own in a thousand years.

It’s future? It is guaranteed, provided there is anyone interested, but rest assured it is not as easy as it looks. Like nursing, it is more of a calling than a legitimate career path because it requires commitment, dedication, a very open mind and the pay is not what people think it is.

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