In the auto industry, as in so many other areas, Africa is something of a forgotten continent. Without the new roads and emerging middle class of a China, the most underdeveloped part of the developing world tends to fly under the radar: for example, until I read a Financial Times piece on an airplane, I had no idea that South Africa’s auto industry was booming. And now, here’s another story that isn’t getting much play in the mainstream of the auto world: Mobius, a Mombasa, Kenya-based firm has built a prototype vehicle that it hopes will be the Model T of Africa, providing robust, low-cost transportation to a continent that is not taken seriously as a market by the global car business.
Based on a monocoque of 1.5 to two-inch steel tubes, an integrated roll cage and a motor one-liter Toyota engine mounted directly to the chassis, the Mobius Prototype One is designed to be a low-cost transportation solution for Africa’s rough roads and unpredictable weather. The body is made of aluminum, with glass and canvas making up the weather protection. The design was intended to have the key qualities of an SUV, while costing no more than the three-wheeled “tuk-tuk”-style rickshaws… about $5,000 US. The design is not final: Mobius is looking for designers to style its second and third prototypes, with an eye to starting production in 2012.
But even if the rough-and-ready look is retained, Mobius emphasizes rugged practicality over tantalizing consumers with a gotta-have-it look. After all, Mobius doesn’t just see itself as a car company, but an agent of change in Africa. They see their SUV-cum-Dirt Buggy-cum-Rickshaw as a tool of mobility for Africa’s poor, as well as a method for transporting people, goods, humanitarian supplies and fresh water to remote parts of the continent. Like the Model T, the Mobius One faces numerous challenges, but it also reconnects the industry to its most noble cause: providing practical, affordable mobility to the world’s poor. Here’s hoping they get the funding to at least attempt to realize this latter-day Fordian dream. [via Autobild]