That certain automobile models, including Kia, are now coupled together in Nigeria is news that many have taken with a pinch of salt. Members of auto assembly owners club know this. They know that Nigerians as well as President Buhari-led regime need to be convinced that the machines are truly on ground. That Nigerian employees are truly running the plants. And that rules of automotive policy are being obeyed. What is the situation in new Lagos-based Kia Assembly Plant? Motoring World’s FEMI OWOEYE finds out…
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s if obeying the Biblical command in Psalm 24: “Lift up your head o ye gate…”, last week Friday, gates of Kia assembly plant located along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos was thrown wide open for members of the third estate of the realm to go in. Motoring journalists they are. Motoring World was represented.
Kia’s claim to have set up assembly plant was verified. We toured the length and breadth of the plant. From Semi knocked Down (SKD) kits Warehouse to the assembly lines proper, quality check section and very discomforting test tracks – stony and rough track capable of quickly giving out errors before assembled cars are sold into the market. It’s real. Kia automobile models are now assembled in Nigeria. Dana Group did it. Though still a long way to go, they have, no doubt, come a long way.
“When the nation’s auto policy was announced,” recalled the plant’s Chief Operation Officer, Gitesh Yagnik, during a press briefing held after the media tour, “we did a lot of brainstorming, as to how we could make it possible. Machines can be purchased from any parts of the world. It’s not a big problem. But the required human factor for assembling and delivering to customers cars of required quality was a very key factor.
“So sourcing all kinds of necessary and adequate man power was essential. We studied the local technicians cum practices going on in the automobile industry. The local technicians we encountered could not fit in, as their practices are different. We needed operators, who are not only educated but can also understand the modern technology and engineering concepts.
“So we opted for training of fresh brains, which we sourced from University of Ibadan, Ondo State University and University of Benin. We approached management of the Universities and requested for some of their brilliant graduating students from relevant disciplines. We checked their details to confirm they had good academic records. We also did oral interviews to ensure they were able to defend the certificates they obtained. We started with recruitment of 70 graduate engineers, male and female, who we trained.”
According to Yagnik, the recruited graduates were initially trained with smaller cars and assignments, before getting them engaged in proper commercial responsibility. The first phase of the training took about three months.
“But as far as we are concerned,” Yagnik pointed out, “training is a continuous process. For instance, whenever we introduce a new product or model, training will have to be conducted.”
One of such recruits is Oluwayemisi Onanuga, Kia Plant’s Supply Chain Manager, who, in 2012, graduated from University of Ibadan with a degree in Industrial and Production Engineering. Conducting journalists through various sections of the multi billion naira state of the art assembly plant, Yemisi demonstrated her expertise, dishing out professional insight of the plant’s facility and assembling process.
We gathered that, from its launch in April, 2014, the Lagos Kia plant, has assembled over 2500 units of nine models, including its best-selling Kia Rio, Cerato, Optima, Sportage and the all-new 2015 Sorento with their respective trims.
Notwithstanding, the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, Sandeep Malhotra, alluded to the fact that the success of the plant is premised on Nigeria’s auto policy. According to him, for the Nigerian auto industry to be revolutionised and to contribute immensely to the nation’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), the government needs to stay true to the auto policy, especially clamping down on influx of imported used vehicles, popularly known as “Tokunbo”. Sandeep also added that although the company is yet to break even, “we remain resolute and committed to the long term investment in the auto industry, despite the short term challenges we currently face.”
The plant has the capacity to produce 27,000 vehicles in a year and there is a provision to increase the production lines, depending on demand.