CEO and Chairman of Nigeria's first indigenous Vehicle Manufacturing Company, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Group popularly known as IVM, Dr. Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma has revealed the challenges that affect vehicle manufacturing in Nigeria and how his company is pushing for low-cost vehicles to the Nigerian populace, and how the government has played a vital role in sustaining the venture.
In this exclusive interview with Vanguard, the automaker noted that vehicles from his company are cheaper than imported ones which are really expensive, and that Innoson vehicles are cheaper to maintain.
Also Read: Prices of Innoson Vehicles in Nigeria
The economy has been tough on manufacturers. In your interview with Yahoo, you promised to downsize if government did not do anything about it. Have now you downsized your workforce?
The economic hardship in Nigeria is everywhere, but government has shown signs that it wants to solve the problems manufacturers are facing, so that Nigerian will move on. Government is putting in place many policies to favour manufacturers, and with these, I believe the hardship will reduce.
We did not downsize, but if the situation had continued, we would have done so. Fortunately, government has woken up and things are now picking up gradually.
Have you been able to make new cars affordable to Nigerians?
My major interest in setting up my plant is to produce new cars in Nigeria. I wanted to make prices of cars to come down, so that people can easily buy new cars as they do overseas. That is where we are going. Government is doing everything possible for people to buy new cars instead of fairly used ones popularly called tokunbo.
If Ajaokuta Steel Company was working at full capacity; do you think the situation would have been better for manufactures?
If Ajaokuta Steel Company was working; it would have helped in making the price of cars come down. We are still getting most of our iron for manufacturing cars from outside the country. And though we are getting some from Nigeria, but mostly, we are using imported iron products. We don’t produce iron on our own.
What do you think went wrong with Ajaokuta Steel Company?
I think the foundation for Ajaokuta Steel Company was wrong. It was not good enough to satisfy the market. Nigeria has wasted a lot of money there and I don’t see much coming out of the place. They need to get strong foundation.
Are you advocating complete privatisation of the company?
They have privatised such organisations as the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). And we have seen the unfortunate things happening there. Can we go on privatising things without having people with adequate knowledge to manage it? I don’t think privatisation is the problem. The problem is getting the right experts that can handle it. If privatisation had gone well, it would have given Nigerians better ideas on privatisation. If privatisation of PHCN has worked out well, it would have been easy for government to continue with privatisation in other areas. If it did not help, I don’t think it will encourage more privatisation.
Why do you think Nigerians still prefer buying foreign brands?
You know vehicle is a fashion thing. Everybody cannot like the same type of vehicle. Some people will like type A, while some will like B. That is why we have so many brands for people to choose from. Some people still like imported cars; that is their choice. However, the imported ones are very expensive. If they buy from our brands, it will be cheaper to maintain. But some people still prefer foreign ones. Anybody who wants to buy Rolls Royce can go and buy it. We don’t sell Rolls Royce. Some people have the dream to drive Rolls Royce, so when they have the money, they will go and buy it, no matter the cost.
To what extent have you improved on your old brands?
I started my own brand, which was not in the market before. Today, it is no longer a new brand. People have seen it as a good brand and are buying it. We started with one brand, but we now have up to 12 brands.
With hindsight, what mostly gives you joy?
When I see the first model of Innoson vehicle still plying the road, moving perfectly, it gives me joy. It shows that our brand is good. New models of Toyota cars in the market do not worry me. Some people prefer to buy Innoson, while some prefer to buy Toyota and others prefer buying Nissan. It is a matter of choice. What I am selling is Innoson, so, I don’t know about other brands.
Are banks helping manufacturers to grow their businesses?
The commercial banks are not supporting manufacturers. The only bank helping industries is the Bank of Industry, but it cannot serve all the industries in Nigeria. My advice is that banks should reconsider and help grow the economy by supporting industries.
In what ways is Innoson Kiara Academy contributing to the economy?
At Innoson Kiara Academy, we train people on skilled jobs. We train young artisans on how they can stand on their own. They are trained on how they can open workshops to maintain vehicles in any parts of the country. We train them on how they can become good mechanics, electricians or panel-beaters, among others. We have trained about 400 people, and we provide automatic employment for those who want to work with us. But if you don’t want, you can set up your own workshop in any part of the country to maintain vehicles. After the training, we give you certificate. The maximum duration of training is nine months, depending on your ability.
You know when somebody is idle, he or she will start to think of what is not good for the society. But when they have such training to empower them, they will be able to help the economy grow. They are enabled to help the society, instead of becoming a liability. They have to pay some fees to enroll for the programme. It is an academy, where we train them in both theory and practical.
Some of the ex-militants we trained are working in oil companies. Some of them who were trained in welding were employed to maintain pipelines. Before, they were unemployable, but they became employable after our training.