It has been one year since the world acclaimed auto designer (he designed the famous Chevrolet Volt), Jelani Aliyu, took over the mantle of leadership at the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC). In this interview in his Abuja office, he spoke exclusively to Ignatius Ushie and Goodness Sunday about the prospects of the local auto industry and Sunday issues\

One year after resuming as DG, NADDC, how has it been?        
Well let me begin by saying it has been very adventurous and interesting too. It is also an honour for finding me worthy to serve my country at this capacity.

What is the current state of the Auto Policy?   
As a policy, I will say since after the introduction it has been in effect, but will also add that it has started creating results. As you are aware that the aim of the policy is to discourage the importation of fully built vehicles and to promote and support the production of vehicles and components within the country. Since the introduction a lot of companies have set up operations, most of which were in operations in the 70’s are springing up, such as the Peugeot, ANAMMCO in Enugu that is also into Motorbike production. There are also a number of companies too that are putting up vehicles such as Nissan, Hyundai and also a number of Chinese companies. We are definitely not exactly where we want to be but a lot of progress has been made. We all know about the impact INNOSON is creating right there in Nnewi, there are creating jobs and adding value to the economy, providing transportation solutions and it is an indigenous car manufacturer.  The policy itself is to deter the exportation of jobs and currency out of Nigeria. When you look at what is happening in terms of the automotive ecosystem in the country, you realize that hundreds or thousands of vehicles that are produced elsewhere and used for an upward of 10 to 15 years, gone through their life cycles are then imported into Nigeria as fairly used vehicles. Literally, these subjects us to buying cars that are dilapidated, old, unsafe, polluting and treating us as second class citizens.  My believe is that we have gone a long way and are at a point where we need to get it right, Nigerians are as fortunate as any other people on this planet. If in other nations one can walk into a shop and drive out a brand new safe and efficient car, why not Nigerians at an affordable rate? So on the policy, it may be a bitter pill to swallow, difficult to implement but the truth is unless implemented, we may not achieve the type of progress the South Africans, Indians and the Chinese have. We are happy that in the last one year the policy has gotten tremendous support, it has been passed by both houses of the National Assembly; it’s almost at its final stage of becoming a law after the Presidential Assent. It may also interest you to know that we are not the only people who are interested in the auto policy becoming a Law, all other people in the value chain of improving the auto industry, our supervising ministry, manufacturers are all interested. As you are aware, the Federal government recently signed an MoU with Volkswagen. Now why is this important?  It’s important because Volkswagen is one of the largest car manufactures, it’s very strong in South Africa, they understand the African landscape and are willing to expand and add value to the auto industry in the continent, that is why Volkswagen has started vehicle production in Rwanda, if they can see a market in Rwanda, then there is a larger market in Nigeria which they are also interested in. So this MoU shows the type of confidence a Multi-National such as Volkswagen has in Nigeria, the policy will give confidence to more auto companies that are interested in Nigeria to establish their plants here, the MoU with Volkswagen is a good one and the beginning of good things to happen in our auto industry. Nigeria as projected is good for about two million new vehicles per year, for instance, Nigeria spends up to eight billion USD for automobiles and components, this is all currencies that can be kept within Nigeria, yes the policy has a long way to go, but as stated before we are making progress as more companies from the global automotive communities are now interested in doing business in Nigerian.

What is the role of Stallion Motors Nigeria in the MoU and how was their interest protected? 
Well it may interest you to know that Stallion is a local partnership of Volkswagen in Nigeria, now an MoU has been signed with Volkswagen Germany, as you are aware, Volkswagen is made up of many divisions, Audi, Jetta etc, now Volkswagen itself  coming into the country means that it will be a much more bigger business, the type of vehicles produced will increase giving rooms for more business and job opportunities for our people, my take on how stallion group is protected is that, there will be a huge opportunity for them to increase their business in Nigerian hence the parent company is now located within, I feel it will be mutually beneficial to the Stallion group.

What is your reaction, that motorcycle segments are not captured in the Auto policy?
You see, this is a very important component of the automotive sector and it is also key in the auto policy. Let me add that the policy gives preference to those who will assemble motorcycle in Nigeria, and they are well protected. For instance Honda in Lagos alone produces about 200,000 Motorcycles a year which you and I know is huge. The policy has an in built mechanism which can be reviewed. It is not written in stone; rather it’s an initiative that is revolutionary. The motorcycle segment is an issue which we have recently discussed with stakeholders on ways we can improve and as I said before the sector is protected by the policy.

What is the state of the NADDC ELECTRIC Car Project?
Electrification of vehicle in this country as you are aware is a project we cannot turn our back to. Not too long ago when we first spoke about electric vehicles, people thought we were joking or it was a mere side talk, No; their thinking is you can’t even power your homes, offices, industries so how can you electrify a car? It is not whether Nigeria chooses to do it or not, the fact is that very soon most of the cars that will be manufactured by any serious car companies will have high percentage of electric vehicles. So unless we begin to think in that direction by providing necessary infrastructure, we will be left in the cold that is why we have started discussing with companies who are very good in renewal energy to see how we can begin a pilot program on the electrification of vehicles. We are not only looking at providing such facilities, as part of our mandates in NADDC, we are to train manpower to repair and maintain the vehicles that we drive. Recently in collaboration with the Presidency, we training over three thousand youths in that angle of repairs and maintenance of electric cars, the aim is to prepare them for the technology so by the time we have such vehicles on ground, we already have people that can fix them.

Are you not worried that the Local auto industry is dropping numbers doing less than 20,000 units from the 50,000 before?      
Can I take you back to the 70’s when we have Peugeot, Volkswagen, Anammco etc, the outputs in Nigeria was over 170,000 units per year, today it’s not that huge but as I have said that was very good for Nigeria then, today the story is not the same. The decline today is caused by a lot of factors in our economy, remember we went into recession and now the economy is picking up, even the average purchasing power of Nigerians was low but it has stepped up today. The main stay of our economy which is Crude oil went down but today it is better again, so all these affect the production of vehicles. Our priorities for now is if Nigerians can buy used Hondas and other brand of cars with huge amounts of money, why can’t we  develop a model for those indigenous companies to build brand new cars that Nigerians can purchase. It is based on some of these that we are happy with the arrival of companies like Volkswagen that is making a return to the country. We are building their confidence and we hope that when they come in, they will come in big and as such, rising the numbers in output.

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