Uganda pushes ahead with ‘risky’ car plans
- Low-polluting Kiira SMACK car will run on petrol and electricity
- State-run Kiira Motors Corporation handed land for factory
- But it may struggle to compete with established Kenyan firms
The petrol and electric car, called the Kiira SMACK, will have five seats, a top speed of 180 kilometres an hour and will be able to travel 50 kilometres using its lithium-ion battery alone.
The firm says it will also sell station wagons and pick-up trucks made in Uganda, but industry insiders say the project faces “very high risks to its success”.
“If one of the goals was producing an affordable, brand new car for a Ugandan or African market, then that car is still far from affordable and commercially viable.”
Alex Mbaziira, George Mason University, United States
The government is backing the project with 154 billion shillings (US$43.5 million) and 40 hectares of land for a factory at an industrial park in the southeastern town of Jinja, according to Musasizi. The funds come from the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology, which is part of President Yoweri Museveni’s plan to turn Uganda into an upper middle-income country by 2040.
Although more funding may be needed, KMC finance manager Arthur Tumusiime Asiimwe says he is confident the firm will eventually get more money and will find many customers in the region.
The planned factory would employ 2,500 people, and Asiimwe says the firm will train the required workforce with support from foreign industry partners. In April, KMC agreed a deal with US engineering firm RLE International for it to develop a detailed business strategy and, later, offer engineering support.
But industry newsletter Automotives Insight was less enthusiastic in a June analysis brief. “In addition to facing burdensome manufacturing costs owing to Uganda’s poor energy supply and limited availability of skilled labour, the company will also struggle to find enough buyers in Uganda and the East African region,” it said. In addition, “production volumes [will be] unlikely to compete with other producers in Kenya, the region’s largest automaker”.
The company says the hybrid Kiira SMACK will cost US$20,000, down from US$35,000 for a prototype Kiira electric car developed by Makerere University. This two-seat vehicle could carry up to 1,000 kilograms, reach 100 kilometres an hour and cover 80 kilometres on batteries. Powered by a lithium-ion battery, it ran silently and without any air pollution, says Musasizi.
Alex Mbaziira, a PhD student in the Department of Applied Information Technology at George Mason University, United States, said in an email response that the project to develop electric and hybrid vehicles was interesting. But he added that it was unclear what it was trying to achieve.
“If one of the goals was producing an affordable, brand new car for a Ugandan or African market, then that car is still far from affordable and commercially viable,” he said. But a low-polluting car would make sense within congested cities as an alternative to taxi minivans and boda-boda motorbike taxis, Mbaziira said.
“The city and municipal councils could acquire these vehicles and have them as rentals or self-drive cars for people that need to move around the cities,” he said. “Furthermore, there should be incentives for buying an electric vehicle, like green tax credits, reserved green parking lots and free or affordable charging stations.”