As the electric vehicle revolution is underway globally, Nigeria’s only indigenous car manufacturer, Innoson Vehicle, is positioning to begin manufacturing electric cars as soon as the government implements proper infrastructure. Innocent Chukwuma, the company’s founder, says Innoson is well equipped for the transition.
It’s a rather audacious claim from a local car manufacturer that hitherto struggled for patronage and acceptance in a country that is highly dependent on imports. In the first half of 2021, Nigeria spent a total of N601.51 billion on the importation of vehicles, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The figure represents a 15% increase compared to N523.57 billion recorded in 2020.
As a visionary leader, Chukwuma, a thoroughbred Nigerian businessman, envisaged that Nigeria’s overdependent on importation would sink its economy. Hence, he was committed to driving the economy forward through industrialization. His commitment to this vision birthed Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing in 2007. But the odds were stacked against him. He faced rejection from the Nigerian government and its people, who typically lack confidence in anything made in the country.
Nigerians and local products
As a made-in-Nigeria vehicle brand, it would seem Nigerians would be eager and excited to patronise Innoson vehicles at inception, but it was the contrary. Here is why: the average Nigerian elite believes that a foreign product is superior to a local product. The result of this retrogressive mentality expectedly impacted Innoson’s revenue negatively.
This anti-growth sentiment is so ingrained in the Nigerian culture that even the Federal Government imports vehicles for official use, jettisoning a local brand that could boost its economy. In 2016, the Nigerian Senate imported 108 Toyota Land Cruiser Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) for members at about N3.8 billion.
However, Peter Obi, according to Innoson founder, came to the rescue. Obi, a former governor of Anambra state and one of the few forward-thinking Nigerian politicians, ordered over 1000 vehicles from Innoson when he served as governor.
“Obi paid us in advance to manufacture 500 buses to give to schools across the state. When he received the vehicles, he was satisfied and happy with our work. He came back to me and asked if we can build pickup trucks. I told him we can and he paid me for 500 pickup trucks to be distributed to security outfits in the state. He called again later telling me he wants to give traditional rulers SUVs and asked if I can build them. I sent him a design of the SUVs, he liked it and we manufactured and supplied him. I must say that the support Obi gave to me is very key to our success,” Chukwuma recalls in a recent interview with journalists.
Electric cars era
Fast Forward to 2021, Innoson vehicles have garnered cross-border popularity, and the company is positioning to pivot to manufacturing electric cars as the world is moving away from fossil fuel. There is, however, a drawback – Nigeria is not ready.
“I wanted to start producing electric cars but Nigeria is not yet ready. Immediately Nigeria is ready, I will produce it,” Chukwuma adds. “I have made some study and trained some people on it. So, before we do that, we will have to make sure that we have as many charging stations as there are fuel stations because people will need to charge the vehicles.”
While the production of electric cars is in the pipeline, Innoson says it’s currently manufacturing a city bus that uses gas and diesel interchangeably. In the case of scarcity in gas, the vehicle can switch to diesel as an alternative.
Innoson Vehicles manufacturing plant is headquartered in the Nnewi, Anambra State, southeast Nigeria. The company is a subsidiary of Innoson Group, the third-largest in assembling branded motorcycles in Nigeria, coming after Leventis and Boulos Enterprises.
As we edge closer to 2024, the entrepreneurial world buzzes with excitement, teeming with …