One of the most passionate and creative engineers Nigeria has ever produced, Engineer Segun Adekoya, with his wholly Nigerian engineering team and employees of Boulos Enterprises, has achieved outstanding engineering breakthroughs that are capable of driving the nation’s auto industry towards the level obtainable in developed nations like Germany and Japan.In this exclusive interview with Motoring World’s editorial team led by our Lagos Bureau Chief, ROTIMI ASHER, Engineer Adekoya bared his mind on his journey into the world of automobile engineering and some technological breakthroughs achieved by the R&D Department of Boulos Enterprises, under his leadership; how, with his team, he developed the Haojue Elegant Motorcycle for Nigerian market, the extent Boulos has gone in automotive local content sourcing and lots more…
Motoring World: Boulos management informed us that Suzuki Elegance was developed by you for Nigerian roads, please tell us how it happened?
Adekoya: The conceptual development was actually the work of everybody, right from the sales, marketing, engineering team. Where I came in is just specifications, because in the world of engineering, you don’t just talk and say do this for me. You have to specify it and it is in the process of specifying it that we actually need to.
When I joined, development of the product had been on. They had been sending parts up and down. But, in order to be able to articulate what we wanted to communicate to them, we had to formulate a specification in a form that those people over there would be able to understand. And in doing that, contributions of sales people, that is those interacting with customers, had to be taken into consideration. Then we had to consider the product itself. As at the time we were drafting the specification, we had two products, Houjue HJ 125- 16 regular and Haojoe Suzuki AS 100, which used to be our star product.
Then we needed to put a fully Nigerian product in the market. Like I said, for the whole thing, we were working at different points, but when it came to the time for us to really take the product and communicate, we had to look at the two products and also compare other products like Bajaj and TVS.
We realized that we could not copy Bajaj, because it is a product designed in the early sixties meant for India. So we look at the product and said yes we already have a product that is accepted in the market, AS 100. We saw in it a product that would actually make people to remember and of which engine profile is completely different from the common profile of engines of Bajaj, TVS and most of these India and Chinese substandard products. We look critically and said we need to move it up.
Yes, first decided to differentiate our own by number of gears. Naturally, you know, with five gear, you have better fuel economy and you can really work at lower BM while you are still getting good torque, because we looked at the different segment of the market, where the product would be used either for taxi or for those that would be using it in mountainous regions like Ekiti or Ondo. You know Houjue is the most popular product in Ondo and Ekiti. They used to call Ekiti and Ondo Houjue city. When you go anywhere in the village even the hilly areas, you will find Houjue there.
Motoring World:Are you saying they found out that Hoojue is better than Bajaj?
Adekoya: Reliability is key. If you compare our Haojue Elegant with any other product, you will find out that before you open the engine, it will take you like four years. Whereas Bajaj was designed such that within three to four months, you have to change the rings. What they are bringing into Nigeria is not what Indian government allows. They are bringing in substandard products and technology. And if you really know Boulos well, we don’t partner with third class companies but first class like Suzuki and Haojue, which is also manufacturing to Suzuki standard. What we actually did then was to respond.
Motoring World:Is Haojue not from China?
Adekoya: Haojue is Chinese, but within the same plant, because the technology that is being used by Houjue is actually developed and presently being manned by Suzuki. When you talk about reliability, my own job basically is to draw the specification. That is what we need.
What we have done is to give them first grade specification. And that is what they have given us, because if you look at it, to bring the complete design from concept development to the production and sourcing of components, we don’t have the structure locally. But what we have done is outsource it from them. They are the original owner. But we have managed the customer interface locally and that is why, as at the time we were launching the product, if you could recollect, Honda also came up with their Africa strategy. They came out with Honda Ace for Africa, and they planned to be selling one hundred thousand per annum . But we understand the market. What we did was like this is the product we know. It is not a product for Nigeria alone, the whole of West Africa will take it and I am happy to say that Haojue is also exporting it to other West Africa countries.
Motoring World: What has been your motivation?
Adekoya: Let me put it this way. When we joined Boulos, we were so young then.I remember joining Boulos at seven days short my 20th birthday. I had an OND then. And it was a period of technology transfer between Nigeria and Japan, that is Suzuki. So we were so young. They used to put us in one office there. But the type of motivation, learning and teaching we were getting then was that it was impressed in our mind that a Japanese has only one head like a Nigerian, that a Brazilian does not have two heads. We were made to understand and belief that nothing is impossible.
I remember our late General Plant Manager, Mr Hideo Uchiyama. Whatsoever some of us become today, credit should be given to him. I also want to appreciate the Boulos brothers, because what they have planted in almost all of us, still remain there. That is what bearing the fruit you are seeing, because the Boulos brothers believe in Nigeria. The Japanese man, Mr Uchiyama selflessly served Nigeria. But three of them were not recognized.
The idea that nothing is impossible actually got us to where we are. And, like I said, development of the product is not a one man idea. It was a team work. It spanned many years. So I can say, from the time, the ban of two-stroke engines was announced 2012, when the Elegant was introduced ,functionally three years. But around 2010 or 2011 I came back to Boulos. We were thinking: how did they develop these things? I will say, within a year, we were able to build the specification.
Motoring World: What aspect of the machine did you actually develop? Were engine and gear included?
Adekoya: We looked at the profile. You define the profile of the engine, look at styling and say how can we retain it with the consciousness of the people so that they can still remember that this is Houjue? We wanted to ensure that what we were offering them was something they could relate with, something that is elegant, that is simple and performing the function efficiently.
Motoring World: Who suggested the name elegant?
Adekoya: The then Assistant General Manager gave the name Elegant.
Motoring World: What does it take to design an automotive product like the Haojue Elegant?
Adekoya: Well, it takes diligence on the part of the team. From the sales people, they are the people that liaise with customers. They hear the complaint of the customers and know more about the people using the product. They go to the market to research and find out what the people are saying.
Motoring World: When, why and how did you get into designing and researching into auto-related products?
Adekoya: As I said earlier, I started way back 1989 with chance encounter with Mr Uchiyama and, of course, the environment created by the Boulos brothers.
Motoring World: With what educational qualification did you join Boulos then?
Adekoya: I joined with my OND. But I just chose to do the three years in Boulos. I saw it as an opportunity of a life time. We were in a technology transfer programme. It was a rigorous training programme. You know 89/90, was when Pat Utomi was the General Manager of Volkswagen Nigeria(VON). I also used to go to VON to look at their training school. The problem is that most people don’t know where their talent lies.
Motoring World: After your OND, did you go back to school?
Adekoya: After three years in Boulos, I left in 1992, went back for my HND at Ibadan polytechnic instead of Yaba College of Technology, where I obtained my OND. I went to Ibadan, because of production. I am a production guy. It was only Ibadan then that was offering production. That was after three years of rigorous training in Boulos. I was able to develop and design a gear box. It is still there in Ibadan Poly. I realized so early then that if you are going to move the industry and you are not good at transmission what are you moving? In your car, it’s transmission. In your motorcycle, it’s transmission. It’s that encounter with Mr. Uchiyama that changed the whole thing.
After my HND, I traveled to the US,took few courses here and there and got certifications. When you travel abroad, it is either you are working or you get a sponsor. We were not fortunate to go the right way so I had to work. I stayed in the US for seven years and came back to Nigeria, started a software company. I built the only Financial Transaction Authorization Switching System similar to what Interswitch is using. I could take money from any bank ATM on a network.
Motoring World: What happen to it?
Adekoya: It was a software company my brother and I floated. The FTASS software was valued at 480 million Naira then, but I had to part way with my brother.
Motoring World: What about the software?
Adekoya: We destroyed it, because we could not agree.
…to be continued
NEXT WEEK: Watch out for more revelations, especially about technology breakthroughs already achieved by Boulos Enterprises’ R&D Section under the leadership of Adekoya. Don’t miss it.