Rilwan Babatunde is the Chief Executive Officer of Realone Ventures, an automobile firm. In this interview with Anthony Awunor, the car designer says that Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) is leading in automobile manufacturing in the country as the Nnewi based company has been able to apply over 80 percent of local content materials in their vehicles. He also spoke on a wide range of issues bothering on the automobile sector. Excerpts
Most car marketing companies in Nigeria are now selling cars assembled in Nigeria. Stallion, Kia, Innoson, PAN and others are deeply involved. What can you say about that?
Yes, locally assembly cars are being sold in Nigeria now. I think such development is a good omen to auto industry in Nigeria because it will provide jobs for the unemployment and help enhance our labour market. But what I will advice this car companies to do now as the next step is to imbibe manufacturing of 70 to 90% of parts local here in Nigeria so that these cars can be truly be called Nigeria made cars.
Do you think these cars will attract the patronage from Nigerians?
Definitely, these cars will attract patronage from Nigerians if they are made to world standard with all the specified auto safety rules. It will sell if it is durable and has second hand value considering our bad road networks.
Many people are saying that these cars are not 100 per cent made in Nigeria. What do you think can be done to achieve 100 percent car manufacturing in the country. Again do you think we are losing anything by bringing CKDs to assemble in the country?
Yes, they are not 100% Nigeria made in Nigeria because they are CKDs parts shipped to Nigeria and assembled here. But like I Said earlier, we can move from assembling to manufacturing automobile here in Nigeria by producing 70 to 80% parts of the cars in the country. We have the manpower, raw materials but the major problem we have is our unreliable power supply system. Power supply is irregular and that makes investors to source for alternative sources which cost more money. On the other hand, I don’t thinking we are losing anything by bring CKDs down here to assembly because it is making our auto industry to come back to life, after many years of comatose. It s creating jobs for thousands of unemployed and it also encourages skills/ technology transfer to our domain. So it is now up to our auto industry stakeholders to grab it and develop this viable sector
What is your rating of the governments new auto policy. do you think it is working? or do you think these Nigerian made vehicles will satisfy local demands
My own rating of the new auto policy by the government is that it good and bad. Good that it will help develope our auto industry if is well implement. Bad as in you can’t not rule out second hand cars totally. Not all Nigerians can buy new cars not to talk of buying a car assembled in Nigeria which may even cost more than the imported new ones.
Most European cars are disappearing on Nigerian roads and it is being replaced with cars from Asia. what is your reaction to this?
Most European cars are fading out from our road over the past few years now because Asian cars are more fuel efficient than European and American cars; so Nigerians are now buying more of Asians cars. Again, most new Asian car makers are making cheaper models that are durable fuel efficient that attract an average income worker here in Nigeria.
Have you seen any Nigerian car? as a car designer, what is your impression?
Yes I have seen few of the Nigeria made cars on the road like Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing; they are trying and as a car designer, I am proud of them because what they are doing is an example a 70 to 80 % of original made in Nigeria car. And that is what I have being advocating for. Other countries are making cars, Nigerians can do that too if the environment and all needed structures, government policies are implement very well. However, as a car designer, I believed we can still improved on our designs.
Which problems do you envisage with the Nigerian made cars?
The major problem I envisage about Nigeria made cars is the acceptance by Nigerians. People know quite well that Nigerians like to drive good and quality cars. But I believe that, as time goes on, we will get to like and buy them, if they are made of good quality and also if the locally made cars are fuel efficient . Do you think they can compete with cars made in Japan, US and other advanced countries? Yes they can compete if only they are of high quality.
What problems do you think car manufacturers will encounter and how do you think government can come in?
I have said it earlier that the major problem for the auto industry is the unavailability of stable light. The non-functional of Ajaokuta Steel Company is also an issue. All these things have to put in the right perspectives. Out auto industry will blossom if the government of the day can tackle these two major issues.
As a car designer, do you see anything wrong with new models coming up every day?
As a car designer, I don’t see anything wrong with new models coming up every day. This is because, that is one of the beauties of the multi billion dollars automobile industries all over the world.
You mentioned that some new models are new engines put right inside some old or classic cars, can you expatiate on that?
That is true. Putting new models’ engines into vintage or classic cars are like putting a new wine into an old strong, reliable and durable wine bottle. And that is one of my dream projects. To start that culture here in Nigeria, we have to bring back to life our old and pa classic or vintage cars. We can achieve this by customizing them with new model parts and engines but retailing the classics or vintage bodies of the cars. It has been on in the USA and Europe for many years now.
Nigerians don have the culture of antique cars. They don’t keep old cars for historical purposes, why is it so?
I know Nigerian don’t have the culture of using, keeping antique or classics cars. It has been like that and it is because an average Nigerian lacks the needed maintenance culture. But like I said earlier, it has remained one of my dream projects. I have the passion to start that culture of car owners using or keeping their antique cars for historical purposes. Automobile industries worldwide are multi billion Dollars businesses which provide lots of jobs in a wide range of specializations. If the sector is developed in Nigeria, it will definitely reduces unemployment by 60 to 70%
People are saying Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing is the most genuine producer of truly made-in-Nigeria cars. What is your view on this?
They are right. Innoson has been at the forefront when you talk about made-in- Nigeria vehicles. He is the leader of locally made vehicles. I have seen some of their cars and I see the Nigerian content in them. From what I saw, they have up to 70 to 80% parts which are locally manufactured here. Such step by Innoson is good omen for our auto industry development. It is creating more jobs opportunities and skills transfer in the auto industry. Chief Innoson is a mentor to us that are up-coming automobile designers, auto engineers and auto technicians in the Nigerian automobile industry. With the rate Innoson is going, we will soon have 100% made in Nigeria car with 100% local content in them.