Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Plug-in Nigeria: A look at Hybrid Vehicles for Nigeria

Hybrid electric vehicles are the rage today, Nearly every automaker is working on the concept as part of their product development portfolio. This has been driven much by the push for more environmentally friendly vehicles. The Toyota Prius has become the poster child of this movement due to its trailblazing success. Even upcoming Chinese automakers have jumped on the bandwagon.

the biggest reason for hybrids recent popularity is that they solve the short range problem of Full EVs and increase the operating efficiency of internal combustion (IC) engines. Batteries have been the bane of EVs due to a combination of heavy weight, low capacity, and most especially high price. But in Hybrids, the battery requirement is lower avoiding most of the shortcomings.

Hybrids are still more expensive than their IC engine counterparts because of greater degree of complexity. So why should Nigeria bother about them when most peole cannot afford them?

This is where it gets interesting. Nigeria is a land of generators due to its lack of stable Power supply. a unique microcosm has developed. So you ask what do generators have to do with hybrids? Before I answer that first there are two kinds of hybrid electric vehicles, Series and Parallel. A parallel hybrid used both electric motor and IC engine to power the wheels. Power can be switched between the two or they can work together. This is the type of hybrid most automakers are developing and currently offering. such as the Prius.

A series hybrid on the other hand, used only the electric motor to drive the wheels. The IC engine is used in generating electricity for the electric motor. This is the type of system used by the upcoming Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma, some city transit buses and all diesel electric trains.

parallel hybrids have been favored for cars because they offer greater efficiency for varying driving conditions. Series hybrids have been favored for hybrid buses because of simplicity and their nearly 100% operation in stop and go traffic. A place where series hybrids excels in efficiency due to regenerative braking.

Now back to the question. You see those generators can provide on-board electricity to charge a small set of batteries( Lead Acid preferably for their robustness and low cost) Which in turn drive the electric motor. No gearbox necessary. A few things make this a perfect situation. Close to 90% of Nigerian driving is in stop and go traffic ( city traffic) maximizing the series hybrid system efficiency. and there is a flood of generators to supply this demand.

The icing on the cake is the ability for the generator in the car to provide electricity for your home when parked. while a hear exchanger attached to the exhaust can provide all the hot water needs.

This is a situation where the lack of steady electricity supply would be a blessing in disguise, many of these parked series hybrids could be used to form a mini power grid.where people with the cars can sell electricity to other homes generating revenue that can pay back the cost of the vehicle. this alone provides the economic incentive to purchase such a vehicle. The vehicle now becomes a multipurpose utility device serving both as transportation and power generation. This convergence of utilities could do for hybrids what the smartphone did for the PDA.Combining a phone and a PDA has finally allowed the early questionable utility of the humble PDA to survive.

This is Plug-in Hybrid Nigerian style. While majority of the developed world see Plug-in hybrids being supported by the electricity infrastructure, Nigeria does not have such, so these hybrids would become our version of democratized electricity infrastructure.

One major advantage is that since cars require a catalytic converter to operated, the usual pollution of the dirty generators that serve most Nigerians can be reduced. also the increased efficiency of hybridization would reduce the vehicle pollution. That way we can have our mobility and much needed electricity with reduce pollution on both fronts not to mention put Nigeria on the automotive production map.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Joule Elecetric Car ( South Africa's big leap)

At the 2008 Paris Auto Show, Optimal Energy, a privately-owned South African company based in Cape Town that specialises in optimal solutions for urban transport launched the "Joule" on a world stage. It is the first African Electric Vehicle. Following the current trend of electric cars like Tesla roadster and GM Volt, the Joule puts Africa on the EV map. The car is a six-seater Multi-Purpose Vehicle(MPV) with two rows of Three seats.

It was designed by Keith Helfet, the designer of the 1993 Jaguar XJ220 supercar. The similarities in the two designs is obvious especially the front end. The car is powered by a front wheel electric motor and Li-ion batteries placed in the floor which can be charged in Seven hours and give a range of 200km. Upgrades could also be made to the battery pack for increase range. The car is expected to be manufactured in the Guateng province with sales starting at the end of 2010.

This is an exciting development. The interesting thing is they decided to launch the car in Paris. This means that the company has plans to export the car. I know with the cost of electric components and expensive Li-ion batteries, this car would be out of range for most South-Africans except the elite, but it would have a price advantage on the world stage.

Press release below.

Joule is Africa’s first battery electric engineering masterpiece from Optimal Energy. The silent passenger MPV is manufactured as a standard six-seater which complies with UN-ECE safety standards offering an optimal, no-compromise, and zero emission urban driving experience.

Joule is as beautiful and elegant as it is stylish with a classically timeless appeal set to transform the face of the urban transportation landscape. Developed from the outset as an electric vehicle, Joule delivers optimal design, maximum interior space and a minimal exterior and environmental footprint.

* Maximum 400km Range
* Regenerative ABS Braking system
* Steel space frame and side impact protection
* Two dynamic drive train options
* Excellent vehicle handling and dynamics
* Sports-like acceleration from standstill
* Optimal interior space with minimal exterior footprint

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Innoson: Leading the way for a Nigerian car

It's great to hear that despite the hurdles involved with producing a car in Nigeria this company is moving ahead. The Sun new story goes in dept into this pioneering company. With the new automobile factory nearing completion, innoson is set to change the way Nigerians look at buying new vehicles. Bringing the price of the mini buses and mini trucks(pictured above) to be manufactured to under ₦1 million. The vehicles would be assembled in the new factory in Nnewi from CKD(completely knocked Down) imported from China's Wuling Auto. But they would wear Innoson badges. Innoson is looking to make local content near 30% with some parts being made in-house.

The sight of this would bring much needed momentum to the Nigerian manufacturing arena and produce tremendous development for the local parts suppliers. Although the car is not entirely made in Nigeria, it is a good step to strengten the industry besides even the established car manufacturers assemble cars with parts from all over the world. The world average for local content is about 60% which can be reached with time. The initial factory capacity would be 20 vehicles per day increasing with time.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Building a car industry in nigeria

After reading an article on Lanre's blog on building a Nigerian car, it got me thinking. A snippet from his post

Taking these dynamics into account, it would be a colossal waste of money to try to buy a Nigerian car for the following reasons:

1. The demand for cars is insufficient
2. The support industries are absent
3. It is not the place of government to pursue such an undertaking.
4. The car and the industry cannot be globally competitive.

Even with the coming of consumer finance, I doubt we in Nigeria buy 100000 new cars a year. This is clearly not the kind of numbers that can sustain and industry. With global production of about 25 million cars per annum, the Nigerian market may not figure significantly with amy major manufacturer.

I agree with his observation and after a quick research on the annual car sales in Nigeria, the figure came in at 84,398 for 2007. A relatively low figure compared to other upcoming car manufacturing nations like south Africa with 612,707 and India with 1.99million for 2007. The problem is that those numbers are just for new car sales. Nigeria does have the market for cars, but used cars dominate the market and finding solid figures is a problem. This disparity between the used car and new car market shows that there is an opportunity. it could also point to the low availability of financing to drive new car sales.

The relatively low new car sales combined with the inadequate infrastructure also illustrates why Peugeot Association of Nigeria is having a hard time competing with imports and have themselves started importing fully built vehicles as it is cheaper to import a car than it is to build one in the current Nigerian situation.
At the end of the article he suggested;

we should look to leveraging our low cost base and any other economies of scale we enjoy and look to the production and export of car components along the lines of how South Africa has created a niche for its self in the export catalytic converters. This can happen with the support of government through the Nigerian Automotive Council.

This is definitely doable, finding something that we are good at or can take the most advantage of and using it as a basis for our automotive infrastructure would go a long way in making Nigeria ready for the industry. there are already makers of car components in Nigeria especially in the east, the products just have to be raised to world standards and then pricing advantage would help the products make inroads into the international market.

Hope is not lost on building a Nigerian car though we don't have to make cars in the millions. If the numbers of used cars are taken into consideration, one can deduce the true market for a Nigerian car. The car should be cheap enough that it would steal sales from the used car market and make a good export to neighboring countries. Just as the innovative Tata nano is going to steal sales from scooter and motorcycle sales thereby expanding the car market. Thats why I say there is a market for a Nigerian car. If it is made right it would be affordable for most of the population creating a market on its own.

If henry ford looked at the market numbers when he decided to make the model T, there would not have been such a car as the market did not exist at the time. But the market sprouted once the right product was there fulfilling a need.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tata Nano: A 21st century Peoples Car

The recent introduction of the Indian Tata Nano has created a sensation in the international media for cheap cars for developing countries, some good, some not so good. Regardless it does go a long way to illustrate the possibilities when one focuses on designing cars specifically for that kind of market.

At $2500 (approximately ₦300,000), the Nano is by far the most affordable brand new car in the world. That in itself is an achievement, something many of the contemporary automakers ridiculed at first. But the real success of Nano is the numerous patents filed for the car. The car is not just cheap it is packed with innovation. A true modern day Citroën 2CV. Tata in the process of designing the car has created new techniques for manufacturing that can be put into their conventional line-up.
Cost saving measures like making use of a single wiper, using similar mecahnisms for the doors and dorr handles, making a self made 2 cylinder engine, strategic location of manufacturing facilities and suppliers shows how little improvements add up. for comparison the second cheapest car in the world is almost twice as expensive. this shows the power innovation. It is so revolutionary that it is receiving respect from western carmakers.
Tata has managed to create a vehicle that follows the principles of the historic people's cars from ford model T to the VW beetle. and answered the question revelant to the 21st century. Nigeria can follow the same route. It does not have to be a cut and paste pattern. The lessons learned from Tata just have to be implemented with respect to the market and culture of Nigeria.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Taking advantage of synergies

When the idea of manufacturing a car is brought up, the first thing that creeps to mind is the assembly line churning out cars nonstop, but there is another world of building automobiles. Its the low volume sector. Cars are assembled one by one in a less frantic pace. Mainly sports cars are built this way especially the British small sports car industry. The assemblies draw a lot from skilled metallurgy and keen craftsmanship to produce cars in a way intricate manner.

What does this have to do with Naijacar and synergies? A whole lot. Nigeria has many skilled metal, wood, and textile craftsmen. There is also a handful of mechanics with strong knowledge on workings and repair of older cars. Then there's the hustling and bustling parts industry in eastern Nigeria especially Nnewi, Anambra. One can just imagine all these sectors coming together and producing a vehicle out of the synergies of all the different diverse skill sets. working in a low volume volume outlet would avoid the huge overhead costs necessary for full scale mass production while making effective use of the readily available skills of the craftsmen and mechanics.

The essential components like engine and gearbox could be sourced from a current established manufacturer and the engineering could be done in Nigeria and the components produced by different parts manufacturers with all the pieces coming together in the hand s of the metal, wood and textile fabricators under the supervision of the engineers of the car. The Sri-lankan micro-car started and is still made this way. with production doubling gradually every year. The gradual process will nurture the components industry to the high standing degree necessary to sustain a local car manufacturing industry.

As the industry matures, engine production could be moved locally taking further advantage of the inexpensive labor cost. Such baby steps could see a Nigerian car surface relying on the gutsiness of the Nigerian entrepreneurs and without the over promising underachieving efforts we have come to know from the Nigerian government. The set-up could also be more flexible under the patchy power supply. Mass production assembly lines require constant uninterrupted supply of electricity which is a far cry in Nigeria. Its about making the best use of what we have and as the market grows it will force the other things like constant electricity to follow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Inspiration series 4: VW Beetle

The biggest example of a nationwide effort for affordable mobility is the VW Beetle, the so-called “peoples car”. Personally I think the car was far too technical for its time, If not for the enormous amounts of free labor invested in the development, the Beetle would have been more expensive that it was.

Compared to the 2CV, the VW beetle is a Lexus. It was design for the German autobahn, while the 2CV was designed for unpaved country roads. Its solid build is light years ahead of the rickety 2CV and its price despite being very cheap, was still double that of the 2CV. Regardless the car had as much technical innovation as the 2CV, because it was spearheaded by the Best Engineer in his era Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche used rear mounted air cooled engine constructed out of lightweight magnesium, specially treated anticorrosion steel chassis, the first use of a torsion bar suspension, acrylic paint and a very aerodynamic shape for its day.

The car was thoroughly tested and engineered to standards that rival today’s cars. For a Nigerian car, going in the direction of the beetle would lead to bankruptcy and total failure, because the government is not ready to pour in such an investment. But key concepts from its design can be taken into consideration, like the rear mounted air-cooled engine, and aerodynamic shape. The beetle shows what can be done when a whole nation puts its back behind a technical endeavor. The end result was a car that was more advanced than anything in production at the time and yet affordable by the masses

Inspiration series 3: Citroen 2CV

When Citroen launched the 2CV (known as Citroën "Baby-brousse" in most of West Africa) at the Paris auto show in 1948, it was laughed at by journalists for being too Spartan. Nevertheless the rest of the French population fell in love with the styling, affordability, and ruggedness. It was the car that put France on wheels. It would go on to become one of the greatest small cars ever built with passionate fans all over the world. The car used innovative features like an H-frame chassis similar to airplanes of the time, front wheel drive, fully independent suspension, lightweight air-cooled flat twin engine.

The car used a simplistic approach, adopting many mechanical and few electrical parts. Even the side windows would flip-up rather than wind down; a very cheap, yet effective feature. The roll-up fabric roof allowed for quicker roof assembly and provided open air motoring. The air-cooled engine had no distributor and required no radiator and the accompanied complex piping. This made for a very reliable engine not even the VW beetle could match.

Today this car gets praise, but it is good to know that it met some hurdles during its development most notably world war 2. Prototypes were ordered to be destroyed for fear of German acquisition of the technology, but some well deserving engineers, buried some of the prototypes, preserving what would become the iconic 2CV. Development started in the mid 1930’s, but it was not until after the war in 1948 that the world first gazed eyes upon the car.

Of all the cars in my inspiration series, the 2cv is the one I admire the most; mainly because it was not just cheap, but technically innovative. No other car in history has inspired countless engineers working on affordable mobility more than the 2CV. Its final success as well as the struggles in early development harbors some vital lessons for any car envisioned for a developing country.