A Car for the People
Africa needs a vehicle for the people. When Dr Ferdinand Porsche created the original Volkswagen in the 1030's it was in response to a need to get Germany mobile. The car for the people had to be rugged, reliable, easy to maintain, and above all affordable. Although the second world war in Europe put an end to Hitlers dreams of a car for the people, the legendary VW Beetle went on to become an icon of motoring Seventy five years later, the world needs a new Volkswagen. The most pressing need is for transport in developing nations. Lack of mobility is one of the factors holding back development of many of these nations. Modern vehicles are outstanding examples of automotive engineering, yet in a developing nation context they are grossly lacking in many areas.
Modern Vehicles Unsuited to Africa
Living in Africa I am discussing this from an African perspective, however I believe the points raised are just as pertinent to many other regions. Africa has a population of around 800 million. 700 million (at least) of these have no access to private transportation.
- Too expensive: Modern vehicles designed for wealthy nations are simply to expensive for developing nations
- Too complicated: the vehicles are simply to complex to be maintained in regions where access to skilled mechanics and a vast and diverse range of parts is non-existent
- No good for the roads: Developing nations have poor roads. Modern passenger vehicles are largely designed for the paved roads of wealthy countries, highways and urban street. The rough road types are so luxurious they are of no use in a rough environment
- Too many unnecessary features. All the non-essential items e.g. electric windows, central locking, inertia reel seat belts, the thousands of plastic bits that make the car look good yet serve no other function adds to the cost and maintenance burden.
- All vehicles at the lower end of the cost scale are front wheel drive - totally unsuited to the rugged conditions of Africa, and expensive to attend to the frequent requirement to replace CV joints. Front drive vehicles are poor on sandy and very rugged roads.
|Rear Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive|
|Minimal Trim||Plastic Trim|
|Carburetor system||Fuel Injection|
|Mechanical Ignition System||Engine Computer|
|3 point seat belts||Inertia Reel Belts|
|1200/1600/1800 cc engine options|
|5 speed manual gearbox||Automatic transmission|
|Solid build||Lightweight materials|
|Easy maintenance/repair||Dealer workshop repair|
|Steel wheels||Alloy wheels|
|Standard parts||Different spares for every model|
|Under R 50 000.00||Over R 50 000.00|
|Simple, Basic, Rugged||Luxury, Complexity, Fragility|
|Car, Bakkie and 4x4 options||More than 3 basic models|
A Business Opportunity par excellence
Clearly this is an entrepreneurs' opportunity being overlooked. A potential market of more than half the world's population is being ignored. That is more than 4 MILLION potential customers. Detractors will argue that low cost vehicles have never succeeded. They are right in some instances. Lets consider a few of examples:
- Toyota TUV AKA "Toyota utility vehicle" - a small commercial vehicle designed for the Micronesian region which was sold in South Africa in the 1980's. It was never a success!
- It was shoddily built
- Vastly Underpowered
- Awful to drive - not safe even on good roads
- Way overpriced for what was offered
- Morris Minor: A solid, rugged reliable vehicle that was put back into production in Malaysia/Philippines. The engine was the basic design for the Datsun/Nissan A12/A14 overhead valve engine - one of the most reliable engines aver put into a production vehicle. Mine ran for more than 700 000km without a rebuild - total engine repair cost - excluding normal servicing over that distance - less than R100.00 (about R1500.00 in today's terms).
- Datsun/Nissan 1200/1400 bakkie: The most successful light commercial vehicle ever in South Africa. First coming on the market in the early 1970's, it remained in production until well into the 21st century., by which time it had been priced out of the target markets range. This go-anywhere vehicle was equally at home on urban streets, rough gravel roads, and could run rings around heavier 4 wheel drive types on soft (beach) sand. It was the last rear wheel drive small vehicle produced in South Africa.
- Lada Niva: At one time this looked set to become a viable option for Africa - 4 wheel drive, built like a piece of agricultural equipment in pre and post Soviet Russia, it had everything needed for a developing nation - except reliability. The engine and drive train was rubbish. The Lada was re-developed and a whole bunch of trimmings and luxuries added, putting it out of reach of the market where it had the greatest potential.
- Volkswagen Beetle: Do I need to say anything more about the most successful small car design in history. Results speak for themselves.
An Automotive Shuttleworth
Africa needs an entrepreneur with the vision and drive of A David Shuttleworth. What he did for computing for developing nations nations with Ubuntu Linux can be done with a peoples car, a new 'volkswagen'