African motoring is stepping up its game in the competitive but profitable automotive industry, giving the Germans, Indians and Chinese leaders in vehicle design and manufacturing some competition in local markets.
Much like South African-born Elon Musk is changing the game with Tesla Motors and its revolutionary electric motor innovation, South African motor manufacturing, be it luxury, commercial or concept and performance vehicles, is always a little different and ahead of its time. And African car companies are also creating wholly locally sourced vehicles that can compete on the international market.
Here are eight of the best African car manufacturers:
Birkin, South Africa
Founded in 1980 and based in Durban, Birkin Cars is best known for its quality reproductions of the Lotus 7 Series 3, called the Birkin S3. The company exports locally manufactured Lotus and other limited-edition performance car replicas around the world.
Saroukh el-Jamahiriya, Libya
The legendary “Libyan rocket” was fast, luxurious and safe. Designed especially for former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1999, the car, wholly built in Libya, was the country’s pride and joy, pitted against the German luxury car market leaders.
Unfortunately, it never went into full-time production, yet it was a prime example of inventive North African design. Designers claimed it to be one of the safest cars ever made, comparable to Volvo and Saab. It had some innovative safety features, including the ability to drive for miles on flat tyres – making it perfect for desert conditions – and a full electronic safety system with airbags. In fact, it was one of the first cars to have airbags for all four seats.
Laraki, a car manufacturer based in Casablanca, is owned by Moroccan luxury yacht designer Abdeslam Laraki. The company designed and manufactured its own range of luxury performance cars and sport models, including the Borac; the V8, 1 750 horsepower Epitome, the only officially recognised African-made supercar; and the Fulgura, which embodies a Lamborghini in look and spirit.
Larakis are strictly concept cars, custom-built for each customer, and were ranked among the most expensive cars in the world in 2015, priced at over $2- million (about R33-million) each.
Advanced Automotive Design, South Africa
Pretoria’s Advanced Automotive Design makes racing-style sports cars and has been in business since 1995. The company is famous in motoring circles for its 2007 Shaka Nynya, named after the Zulu king. It has impressed drivers with its versatility and speed.
Competing in the lucrative off-road market, the small but powerful Wallyscar, manufactured in La Marsa, Tunisia, is a relatively new company, founded in 2006. The company is building a strong reputation for affordable, reliable and powerful 4X4s, despite the size of its vehicles, which are similar to Suzuki and Skoda.
According to reports from 2014, the company sells over 600 units a year, predominately in Africa and the Middle East, but also as far as Panama and Europe. The company’s plans include making its sporty, colourful, off-road vehicles more environmentally friendly, as well as trying its luck in international off-road motorsport.
Bailey Edwards, South Africa
Started in 2003 by brothers Peter and Greg Bailey, Bailey Edwards is a top replica sports car manufacturer based in South Africa. The group builds and customises classic performance cars such as the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari P4 for clients around the world. It has a factory in New York to service the North American market.
Its signature replica is the Ford GT40 that has raced in both national and international racing tournaments. The company has even restored an Aston Martin DB6, familiar as the classic James Bond car and much sought-after by collectors around the world.
Kiira Motors, Uganda
The Kiira EV is the first African-made hybrid electronic vehicle; it was launched in 2014. Still not available commercially, the car began as a group design project by engineering students at the University of Makerere. The Ugandan government has invested $40-million in the project, to create an affordable hybrid for the African market and turn Uganda into a hub of the automotive industry for East Africa.
With a factory in Kampala slowly developing various sedan, off-road and urban variations, the company hopes to go into full production by 2018, employing 10 000 people and making 300 vehicles a year.
Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing makes affordable, high quality and locally sourced passenger sedans in a factory in Nigeria’s Anambra state. The company’s newest Fox sedan, released in 2015, has been declared “a reference point in the success story of the Nigerian automotive industry” by Nigeria’s ministry of trade and industry.
From humble beginnings as a bus manufacturer, the makers of the country’s ubiquitous Uzo minibus taxi, is now planning to go global with interest from potential Japanese and German partners.
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