Out Of Africa, A Car For Africa

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]

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  • Signal11 Signal11 on Jul 28, 2011

    I don't know what this is, but it can't be serious. In Mombassa, which is the port of entry for cars into the east African market, 5000 USD will buy you a used, direct import JDM 4WD diesel HiLux or HiAce in decent shape. Spare parts and shade tree mechanics with at least a passing familiarity at every wide spot on the road. 2500 USD anywhere in more developed west Africa will buy you a decent Peugeot. What African in his right mind is going to take this risk of buying this?

    • See 1 previous
    • Signal11 Signal11 on Jul 29, 2011

      @M 1 Good point. I wasn't even thinking about kei trucks. Though I've seen them around everywhere, I don't have much experience with them. Is that what you're putting down as market value when you ship? You end up paying a bit more after all the unlisted "taxes." About 5-6 years ago, when I was buying a lot of cars in east Africa, one of the best ways to get in great used vehicles was to fly to Abu Dhabi and spend a day grabbing cars with good bones. The volume of used cars going through Abu Dhabi is amazing.

  • Obruni Obruni on Jul 29, 2011

    the peugeot 504 was produced under license in Nigeria and Kenya until a few years ago. why not try again with the Dacia Logan? or the Tata Nano?

  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.
  • Dlc65688410 Please stop, we can't take anymore of this. Think about doing something on the Spanish Pegaso.
  • MaintenanceCosts A few bits of context largely missing from this article:(1) For complicated historical reasons, the feds already end up paying much of the cost of buying new transit buses of all types. It is easier legally and politically to put capital funds than operating funds into the federal budget, so the model that has developed in most US agencies is that operational costs are raised from a combination of local taxes and fares while the feds pick up much of the agencies' capital needs. So this is not really new spending but a new direction for spending that's been going on for a long time.(2) Current electric buses are range-challenged. Depending on type of service they can realistically do 100-150 miles on a charge. That's just fine for commuter service where the buses typically do one or two trips in the morning, park through the midday, and do one or two trips in the evening. It doesn't work well for all-day service. Instead of having one bus that can stay out from early in the morning until late at night (with a driver change or two) you need to bring the bus back to the garage once or twice during the day. That means you need quite a few more buses and also increases operating costs. Many agencies are saying for political reasons that they are going to go electric in this replacement cycle but the more realistic outcome is that half the buses can go electric while the other half need one more replacement cycle for battery density to improve. Once the buses can go 300 miles in all weather they will be fine for the vast majority of service.(3) With all that said, the transition to electric will be very good. Moving from straight diesel to hybrid already cut down substantially on emissions, but even reduced diesel emissions cause real public health damage in city settings. Transitioning both these buses and much of the urban truck fleet to electric will have measurable and meaningful impacts on public health.