For the stakeholders of the automotive and allied sectors around the world as well certain leading automakers and nations on earth, 2015 remains a year that cannot be forgotten soon. For, it was filled with pains and gains as well as cheers and tears, reports FEMI OWOEYE…
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the world chorused: “Happy New Year!!!” on January 1st, 2016, Nigerians and, stakeholders of the auto industry within the country and other parts of the world have causes to cheer.
For instance, no matter what, most auto assemblers or marketers operating in Nigeria have cause to cheer, maybe for successfully opening new showrooms, winning awards, inaugurating a plant or even something as simple as increasing local content of locally made automotive product.
But to many others, 2015 was a year that would for ever be in the darkest chapters of history.
Boulos Enterprises: Despite the tension caused by election postponement, the nation’s leading assembler of motorcycle and tricycles, Boulos Enterprises, announced a cheerful result of 30% sales increase within the first quarter of the year; and by the end of the year, the company successfully jerked up local content of its locally assembled tricycles by 50%.
However, the company’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Stanley Evans, who believes Boulos locally assembled motorcycles and tricycles are higher in quality in comparison with its competitors, could not understand why Bajaj Auto Nigeria recorded higher sales and maintained bigger chunk of the market share during the year. So it was louder cheer for Bajaj and still a case of aluta continua for Boulos Suzuki and Piaggio.
BMW Presentation at Motor Show: Though BMW has not started auto making in Nigeria, it thrilled auto world with new offerings. It s BMWi8 was named World Green Car of the Year.
But, unfortunately, presentation of its exclusive show stoppers at the September 2015 Frankfurt International Motor Show was marred with a life threatening, but embarrassing disaster, which was averted.
The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Harald Krueger slumped and fainted on stage, while making presentation of the BMW’s latest offerings being showcased at the event. Immediately, two men rushed to the stage, lifted him up to his feet and helped him off the stage. A BMW spokesman revealed that Herald fainted, because he felt dizzy.
Following the incidence, the press conference was cancelled, while the company’s Chief Financial Officer, Friedrich Eichiner took over the press roundtable.
CFAO-Yamaha Nigeria Plant: But, early last year, CFAO raised the hope of Nigerians over reviving the nation’s auto industry. The company signed a joint venture with Yamaha Motor Corporation and within four months, incorporated a company named CFAO YAMAHA MOTOR NIGERIA LIMITED.
Before the end of the year, the newly registered company commenced manufacturing of Yamaha motorcycles and other products, which were showcased at the 2015 Lagos International Trade Fair.
The company’s assembly plant, which is located in the premises of CFAO within the Amuwo Odofin industrial zone in Lagos, has a production target of 70,000 Yamaha motorcycles by 2018.
Fiat Chrysler: The year 2015 was not all that kind to Fiat Chrysler. Sometime during the year, the auto maker was forced to recall 1.4 million vehicles in the United States alone after hackers successfully corrupted certain automotive software installed in its vehicles. As a result of the development, the company incurred huge cost over updating the corrupted software of the recalled vehicles.
Ford’s First Auto plant in Nigeria: In collaboration with Coscharis Motors Nigeria, Ford did not only complete its first Nigerian assembly plant located in Lagos, it unveiled first Ford ranger to roll out of the plant and even announced a plan to heat up the nation’s automobile market by establishing a bigger plant in Lekki, where it would roll out Ford salon vehicles.
If only for that alone, initiators of the nation’s auto policy have a cause to pulp bottles of Champaign and yell out: “cheers!!”
Ford’s Lincoln Continental Controversy: However, outside Nigeria, there were times, when 2015 failed to put smiles on faces of the management of Ford Group. For instance, what should have become an exclusive and proud unveiling of a world premiere of all-new Lincoln Continental at 2015’s New York International Motor Show rather attracted a continental embarrassment.
Two days before Show kicked off, Ford was ready to dazzle the world with its updated luxury car. Photographers and army of world press were set for an exclusive machine. Like a beautiful bride, veil was removed from the pretty face of the supposed born-again Lincoln Continental.
But placing the new Continental on the side of the Bentley Flying Spur, their resemblance could not be wished away. So much it attracted an embarrassing comment on FACEBOOK by Bentley design chief, Luc Donckerwolke pointing out the car’s similarities with one of Bentley models.
“Do you want us to send the product tooling?” Donckerwolke posted on Lincoln designer David Woodhouses’ Facebook page, “This behaviour is not respectable; a copy like this is giving a bad name to the car design world.”
His exterior design chief, Sangyup Lee, also described the Lincoln as “a joke, seriously,” adding, “It is very disappointing, especially for an exclusive brand like Lincoln.”
Owner of Lincoln Continental, Ford, did not find the drama funny at all, because, instead of desired positive response, what followed unveiling of the luxury vehicle was an opened tap of controversy, simply for one reason: The supposed born-again Lincoln Continental looks like a Bentley Flying Spur with modified grill and headlamp.
Ford Ranger Odyssey: For the first time, two Nigerians, Giftson Onuiri and Moyosore Fawole, who placed first and second during the preliminary competition held at Coscharis 4×4 Test Track in Lagos, made the final list of 2015’s Ford Odyssey event held in Namibia. Although the two were dropped before the end of the event, they saw the adventure from a cheerful point of view. In twitter, Onuiri described his experience as one that would linger positively in his heart for the rest of his life.
JAC: The Chinese indigenous auto brand, JAC added strength to Nigeria’s journey towards industrialization, starting with inauguration of its first ultramodern 3S showroom at the heart of the Lagos State capital.
During the launch, which was witnessed by motoring media, including Motoring World International, the managing Director of Elizade Autos, the nation’s representative for the brand, Mr. Ademola Ade-Ojo, announced that another showroom being sited in Victoria Island was near completion.
Most cheering news was that JAC would commence assembly in Nigeria before the end of 2016.
Kia: In July 2015, the nation’s auto policy also recorded another progress with the official inauguration of Nigeria’s first ever Kia plant in the country. Since then, management of the assembly plant has had every cause to cheer, as the brand earned more flesh and feathers to its reputation and popularity across the country.
Incidentally, Kia Rio was declared winner of Nigeria Car of the Year, by the Guild of Motoring Correspondents (GMC). And while this story was being put together, we gathered that it was one of he leading contenders for supply of official cars for the nation’s national assembly members.
Lagos Mass Transit: Close to the end of the tenure of the former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who is now a federal minister, Lagosians had cause to cheer, as the state government introduced internet-enabled buses equipped with air-conditioning, which Lagosians, especially those who travel from Mainland to work on the Island, have since enjoyed.
LASTMA Personnel’s Death: On the contrary, however, 2015 did not offer full smile to the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA). Shortly after the 2015 General election, the body recorded a major loss. One of its personnel slumped while on duty and died.
Its image rating also slumped after last year’s general election, because it seemed to loose control of the Lagos traffic. However, LASTMA became strengthen and toughened again before the end of 2015 so much that, traffic-wise, Lagosians, the dawn of January 1st 2016, had cause to cheer again.
Mercedes-Benz: Towards the end of 2015, Mercedes-Benz Centre at Lekki, Lagos hosted triple celebration, as it marked 25-year anniversary, 30-year of the four-wheel drive system developed by Mercedes-Benz (4matic) and 90-year of Bang & Olufsen.
At a press briefing held a day before the event, the Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Centre, Mr. Benson Uwatse, described the celebration as a special occasion for his company.
The company used to be called Mercedes-Benz shop somewhere in Surulere, Lagos he recalled, pursued a corporate goal of having a place called Mercedes-Benz Centre, which was achieved in 2011.
At a press briefing preceding the event, the company’s Deputy Sales Manager, Kingsley Uwatse, revealed that year 2015 had been challenging for the organization
“But we have managed the crisis successfully,” he assured. “Rather than of course shrinking, we have used the year as one for gathering momentum and restructuring our entire team. We’re transforming the way we operate to continuously improve our ability to satisfy all our customers.”
On the 30 Years of 4Matic by Mercedes-Benz, he said the all-wheel-drive has been used in a wide range of the Mercedes-Benz models, adding that vehicles such as the G-Glass even attained legendary status with the ‘G’ in the G-Class standing for ‘Gelandewagen’- German for off-road vehicle.
On the company’s goal for another 25 years, the general Manager of Mercedes-Benz Centre, Mr. Michael the company’s major focus would be to assemble Mrcedes-Benz in Nigeria and generate more employment.
Though the company’s chairman, who is passionate about the development of the nation’s auto industry, disagrees with the manner of implementation of the nation’s auto policy, he revealed that Mercedes-Benz plan to start local production of buses and ambulances in Nigeria, which was cheerful.
In other parts of the world, Mercedes-Benz had moments of cheers, as it clinched three prizes at the World Car Awards 2015 held at the New York Motor Show. The Mercedes C-Class was named overall World Car of the Year, while the S-Class Coupe won the World Luxury Car trophy and the AMG GT was named World Performance Car of the Year.
Peugeot: Cheerful it was also when last year, Peugeot Automobile of France, indicated its intention to return to Nigeria and resume investing in PAN Nigeria Limited, which it abandoned decades ago. More than that, close to the end of the year, it presented in Abuja 2016 Peugeot 508, claimed to have been rolled out of its assembly plant.
The cheerful aspect of this development is that, even though Nigeria is still officially on Euro 2 in terms of emission level control, PAN says its locally assembled 508 meets Euro 5 emission standard, a claims most Nigerian motoring journalists, including us, are yet to verify.
For some strange reasons, it was alleged, PAN invited only two motoring journalists to the occasion, because the latter allegedly deceived the assembler that they were representatives of almost 20 motoring journalists attached to various print, electronics and online media across the country, without their knowledge.
However, if Peugeot’s emission claim happens to be true, it could be said that 2015 produced Nigeria’s cleanest locally assembled vehicle ever.
Takata Airbags: Japanese auto airbag maker, Takata experienced a year of pain as its airbags, was found out to be sniffing life out of motorists it was meant to protect. The airbags were found to have potential of exploding, even when there is no car crash, and causing loss of control, which could lead to accidents and serious injuries or even deaths. Affected brands include: Honda, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Ford, Fiat, Chrysler, Daimler truck, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Subaru.
Toyota Nigeria Limited happened to be the only Nigerian franchise dealer of affected brands that responded to the incident, by announcing a recall of one of its affected models. Others kept mute till date.
After five deaths had been reported in the US, Barrack Obama’s regime realized that the problem was not to be treated with kid’s glove. Parliamentary committee was set up. Investigations were carried out. Takata was sanctioned, loosing billions of dollars to recalls and compensation.
The problem with Takata airbags, we gathered, has to do with inflator propellants used, which is a chemical known as Ammonium nitrate. Airbags produced by other rival makers, namely Autoliv, Daicel and TRW, do not have similar problem, because they use different inflator propellants. As Takata discovered, Ammonium nitrate can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal inflator and sending sharp metal objects into the passenger compartment.
Safety analysts believe that 100s of unreported cases would have occurred around the world, for very few motorists are aware of the problem or even common indicators that airbags may not deploy or deploy too early or too late, during an accident. Before the end of the year, most of the company’s major clients, including Toyota and Honda, cut off business relationship with it.
While the rest of the world chorused, “Happy New Year”, on January 1st, management of the killer airbag making company, Takata, wallowed in debt and losses. They had no cause to cheer.
Topgear: The year 2015 marked the end of an era for Jeremy Clarkson and his colleagues, who had been presenters of what for many years, had been highest money spinner for and most popular programme on BBC, the TopGear.
The incident, which led to departure of the trio from BBC, played like a well scripted drama. For not having his dinner hot enough, Clarkson assaulted a colleague, reported himself to the BBC management. A panel of enquiry was set up. Clarkson got sacked. His colleagues left with him.
Since then, BBC TopGear has not remain the same. For, with the demise of Clarkson and his gang from BBC, the broadcast station is set to record losses running into millions of pounds and viewership.
But for Clarkson and his friends, it has been a positive transformation, as they, before the end of the year, secured private TV show contract from which they would earn annual income running into millions of pounds, something incomparable with what they earned from BBC.
Therefore, 2015 ended with income pain for BBC and revenue gain for Clarkson and his friends.
VW Nigeria: Two decades after Nigeria’s Volkswagen had gone moribund, the nation had cause to cheer in the second quarter of last year, as Volkswagen factory gate was thrown open again and assembling commenced. Yes, the plant is now owned by Stallion Group, it is significant that, like the plant’s contemporary, Peugeot Nigeria, it resumed production.
Volkswagen AG: However during the year under review, VW Nigeria’s German parent company, recorded more pains than gains. At about the second quarter of the year, the company’s sales soared so much that it, for the first time in decades, surpassed Toyota in vehicle sales around the world.
But preliminary disaster knocked on the door of VW AG, as production robot killed a 32-year-old man at its factory in Germany.
As the company was still sweeping that story into the bin of history, tsunami of emission scandal caught it unaware. It lost virtually all the reputation it built over the years. It lost billions of dollars. It is yet to recover
100-Year-old Driver: On a lighter note, 2015 marked 80th year, since when Pa Robert Edward had been driving. As reported in last year’s February edition of Motoring World International, Pa Edward, who marked 100-year-old birthday early last year, learnt driving at the age of 17.
First car he drove was his uncle’s De Dion Bouton, a car manufactured by a French Automobile and rail car maker, which operated from 1883 to 1932. Edward passed his driving test and obtained his first ever driving license at the age of 20. That was 1925, a period in history, when automobiles were just getting fashionable.
Born 1905 in Ngataki, a community on the Aupouri Penisula in Northland, New Zealand, Mr Edwards grew up in England. He is married to Lesley, who stopped driving 1985. Though Edward is not the world’s oldest driver yet, he is still the oldest driving license holder in his country of birth, New Zealand.
Today he is still alive, still driving. For members of his family and entire world of motoring, Edward’s chapter of 2015 history would ever make a thrilling reading.