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.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Nexo Urban: An example for naijacar

The nexo urban car project is a concept that follows closely to what naijacar is trying to achieve. It was the second price winner of the 2006 Innovar Inventions contest in argentina ( a contest that nigeria should emulate) It was design by Indutrial designers Ernesto Frias and Nicolás Alem. The car uses simple forms for easy production, a bunch of similar parts, and symmetrical door assemblies to increase economies of scale. it can be adapted to suit any market application. There are many ideas in the project that are similar to the naijacar project. Its great to see people in other developing countries are exploring such a concept.