In 1886 Karl Benz invented the first modern car (automobile) patenting his Benz patent-motorwagen in Germany.1 In spite of this invention in far away Europe, cars only became available to the masses in the early 20th century in America thanks to the innovativeness of Henry Ford’s production line later known around the world as Fordism.2 Another catalytic factor to the early adoption of cars as replacement for animal drawn carriages by the Americans was their liberalism, which was not too available in western Europe at that time. It actually took the courage of Engr. Karl Benz’s wife to introduce his invention to the world when she took the vehicle for a ride against the wish of her husband who locked his invention up in his garage out of fear and criticism.
In the 1930’s and 1950’s Nissan, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Hino all assembled American and European cars through licenses using the Ford production line technique which accounted for 30% of Japanese car production from 1953 – 1959.3
Toyota on the other hand followed a completely different path deliberately avoiding the American and European technology and techniques, focused on developing its more efficient production systems specifically tailored to meet the Japanese market needs.4 This led to the development of the Lean Production Systems that has improved the quality of automobiles reducing production cost significantly.
Based on all that have been said it is quite easy to attribute the revolution of the global automobile industry to the invention of the first car in Germany, to its mass production in America, and to its improved production process in Japan. It is time for Africa to take a step back and learn from approaches that have actually worked in creating business that can truly last centuries. If Toyota had followed the likes of Nissan and Mitsubishi it would not have overtaken European and American brands as the largest car manufacturer in the world, a spot Toyota held for years until 2017.5 “Toyota redefined what was possible in the automobile industry, effectively pushing out the efficiency frontier and enabling the company to better differentiate its product offering at a cost level that its rivals couldn’t match”.6
With the advent of electric vehicles and the global outcry for an alternative for fossil cars, it is a priceless opportunity for Africa to contribute its innovativeness to the automobile industry. But what saddens the heart the most is to see African businesses choosing the path of Nissan, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Hino when most of the cars driven on our roads are Toyotas. For how long shall we continue to fake African development while the whole world leaves us behind? For how long shall we make Africa the dumping yard for unwanted technologies? Sometimes I think it’s the fear of failure but it’s definitely not the lack of professional expertise neither is the lack of natural resources/raw materials most of which are readily available in abundance.
At Volta EV, we know it’s time for Africa to compete profitably in the new Electric Vehicle industry which is still at its infancy and we also know the age of fossil is at its dusk. We have taken it upon ourselves for the sake of our beloved continent which will be most affected by the effect of climate change, for the sake of our unborn children who will ask us the same question we are asking our parents; Why can’t we design and manufacture cars in Africa to meet our own specific needs when history has it that iron metallurgy started in Sub-Saharan Africa? VoltaEV will not assemble Completely Knocked Down (CKD) versions of existing foreign cars and call it made in Africa, we are here to put Africa on the global map with a truly indigenous and innovative technological designs from Africa.
- Car – Wikipedia. 2018. Car – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car. [Accessed 09 October 2018].
- Bonanno, Robert J. Antonia and Alessandro. “A New Global Capitalism? From “Americanism and Fordism” to “Americanization -Globalization.” American Study, no. 41 (2000): 33-77
- Based on data in Amagai Shogo, Nihon jidosha kogyo no shiteki tenkai [The Historical Development of the Japanese Automobile Industry] (Tokyo: Aki Shobo, 1982); and Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Nihon no jidosha kogyo [The Japanese Automobile Industry] (Tokyo: Annual Report).
- MIT Sloan Management Review. 2018. Manufacturing Innovation: Lessons from the Japanese Auto Industry. [ONLINE] Available at: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/manufacturing-innovation-lessons-from-the-japanese-auto-industry/. [Accessed 08 October 2018].
- BBC News. 2018. Volkswagen overtakes Toyota as the world’s biggest carmaker – BBC News. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-38793253. [Accessed 09 October 2018].
- Hill.Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach Theory & Cases 11th ed., 11th Edition.