A vehicle built in Africa, for Africa | Joel Jackson


Imagine if your daily commute
involved tens of kilometers on these kinds of roads, driving this kind of vehicle, without any nearby service stations
or breakdown assistance. For millions of drivers in many parts
of Africa, this is the norm. Since over 90 percent
of passenger cars are imported, often used, they’re just not designed for local usage. High import duties
often compound the problem, sometimes doubling the price of a car. So most vehicles are either
too expensive or too unreliable for the average consumer. Well-designed vehicles are only part
of the transport challenge, though. For every 100 adults in Africa, less than five people
actually own a vehicle. Public transport is available, and in countries like Kenya,
it’s often run by local entrepreneurs using minivans like this. But in most rural and peri-urban areas, it’s fragmented and unreliable. In more remote areas without transport, people have to walk,
typically tens of kilometers, to get to school
or collect clean drinking water or buy supplies from nearby markets. Bad roads, disparate communities,
low average income levels and inadequate vehicles all impair the transport system and ultimately constrain economic output. Despite this constraint,
the Pan-African economy is booming. Combined GDP is already
over two trillion dollars. This is a massive commercial
and social opportunity, not a helpless continent. So why isn’t there already
something better? Around the world, automotive
is quarter the manufacturing sector. But in Africa, it’s generally
been overlooked by carmakers, who are focused on larger,
established markets and emerging economies
like India and China. This lack of industrialization, which itself creates a vicious-cycle
barrier to the emergence of industry, has caused the dependence on imports. There is a supply-demand disconnect, with the vast majority of automotive
spending on the continent today, essentially funding an international
network of car exporters instead of fueling the growth
of local industry. It’s entirely possible to solve
this disconnect, though, starting with products
that people actually want. And this is what motivated me
to start Mobius, to build a vehicle in Africa, for Africa. To us, this meant reimagining the car
around the needs of the consumer, simplifying nonessential features
like interior fixtures and investing in performance-critical
systems like suspension to create durable and affordable vehicles built for purpose. And built for purpose
is exactly where we started with our first-generation
model, Mobius II, which was designed
as a really rugged, low-cost SUV, able to handle heavy loads
and rough terrain reliably. This launched in 2015, and we’ve now developed
the next-generation version based on customer feedback. For high stress and heavy loading, we engineered a sturdy steel space frame. To handle acute vibration
from rough roads, we ruggedized the suspension. For potholes and uneven terrain,
high ground clearance was a no-brainer. And to make this something customers
could actually be proud to drive in, we designed an aspirational
body aesthetic. Underpinning all of this, we simplified
or eliminated components like parking sensors and automatic windows wherever we could, to keep costs low and sell this at half the price
of a five-year-old SUV in Kenya today. The new — (Applause) The new Mobius II launches in 2018. And while durable, affordable
vehicles like this are vital, a broader solution to immobility
needs to go further. Over the last decade, a transport-centric, shared economy
has connected people across Africa with minivans, auto rickshaws and sedans. It’s just not operated
very effectively or efficiently. Enabling better access to transport
is all about strengthening this public transit network, empowering local entrepreneurs
who already offer similar services in their communities to operate these services
more profitably and more widely. With this aim, we’re taking
human-centered design a step further and developing a transport platform model, which enables owners
to plug in different modules, like a goods cage or ambulance unit, and run other services
like goods delivery or medical transport, as well as public transport. Transportation services
like this are the fundamental driver of logistics, trade, social services, access to education,
health care and employment. The transportation grid
to physical economies is akin to the internet
to virtual economies. And the impact of increased mobility
is only part of the potential here. Since the late 1700s,
the Industrial Revolution has catapulted the development of economies
around the world into thriving societies. Today, manufacturing is still the engine
of economic growth and stability, even as new technologies have inevitably
transformed the way we live. Making stuff is important, especially for nation-states wanting
to boost employment, increase skills and reduce
import dependence. But while few countries can skip
this industrialized stage, many have negligible manufacturing output. There are various reasons for this, but one reason is universal:
hardware is hard. (Laughter) So what are the challenges to industry,
and how are we approaching them? The first issue many people think of
is a lack of skilled labor. In areas where access to good primary
and secondary education are limited and employment opportunities are scarce, a small skill base is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean it’s immutable. There’s an abundance of smart, hardworking
and ambitious people in Africa, obviously. What’s really lacking are good jobs that offer a path not just to employment
but also professional growth. The first person we employed
at Mobius over six years ago was a mechanic named Kazungu. Kazungu had gone to school
up to the age of 18 and worked as an odd-job mechanic. Joining the company at the time
was a near-vertical learning curve. But he rose to the challenge, and with more technical guidance
from an expanding engineering team, he’s grown over the years to lead a group of mechanics
in R&D prototyping. A thirst for learning and the work ethic
to step up to a challenge are values we now recruit on. Pairing innate values like this
with on-the-job training and systems has strengthened our skill base. This works really well
on the production line, where work can be systematized
around clear procedural instructions and then reinforced through training. In our experience, it is possible
to build a skilled workforce, and we plan to hire hundreds more people
using this approach. A second challenge is a lack of suppliers. In countries like Kenya, there are only
a handful of automotive suppliers manufacturing parts like electrical
harnesses, seats and glass. It’s a burgeoning group, and without much demand from industry, most of these suppliers
have no impetus to grow. We’ve worked hard with a few of them
to develop the capacity to consistently manufacture components
at the quality levels we need, like this supplier in Nairobi, who are helping to reduce
the production cost of metal brackets and improve their ability
to build conformant parts to our engineering drawings. Supply and development is standard
practice in automotive globally, but it needs to be applied
from the ground up with a vast majority of local suppliers to properly bolster the ecosystem. And as production volumes rise,
these suppliers can employ more staff, invest in better equipment and continue to develop
new manufacturing techniques to further increase output. Building up skills and suppliers
are not the only hurdles to local industrialization, but they’re good examples
of how we think about the challenge. You see, we’re not just
reimagining the car, we’re reimagining our entire value chain. None of this has been easy, and we’re only just getting started. But once African industry starts to scale, the potential is huge. Better products, costing less, built locally, together creating millions of jobs. Frugal innovation offers a path
to economic acceleration across many industries, and the future of this continent
depends on it. The Africa 2.0 I believe in
can apply locally relevant design and a commitment to solving
its industrial challenges to create a more connected,
more prosperous future, not just for the privileged few, but for everyone. Thank you. (Applause)