The story of Star Auto Industries Limited, only surviving brake pads manufacturer in Nigeria, says a lot about resilience and commitment to set a standard amid market challenges.
In the times past, Nigeria had quality brake pads and lining manufacturers. They included Feredo, then located in Ibadan, Oyo State; Mintex, then located in Kano, and Fenok, then situated in Onitsha, Anambra State. Others were Apex (Lagos), Edison (Nnewi), Uko (Onitsha), and lastly Ibeto (Nnewi). According to industry sources, these firms went under following inconsistent government policies and poor quality control measures for imports from Asia over the years.
A walk round the factory, located at Satellite Town, Lagos, revealed superiority as each department was laden with sophisticated and hi-tech equipment, with capacity to produce brake pads that can run up to 15,000km, as obtained in other climes.
Unfortunately, the trend in the Nigerian market does not support this initiative, as Asian imports, which struggle to last up to 2000 km, flood the market, cheaper.
But Chidi Ukachukwu, CEO, is not bothered by imports as he is confident of competing in the market, if only the government would help subsidise salaries and energy costs.
“In China, the government subsidises cost of small companies by helping to pay engineers. Small companies cannot hire good engineers in the industry because they cannot afford to pay them, given that big firms will always come around to snatch them away,’’ he said.
“We do not need money. I have better equipment than what you see in China. I have been there, so I know. I do not clamour for ban on imports because that will encourage smuggling. What I am saying is subsidise salaries, energy and others, give us a target and you will see us meting the target,’’ he added.
The firm has a number of departments such as research and development/laboratory, engineers’ office, and equipment section, among others. In the factory, one can easily see hi-tech German equipment and why sourcing local raw materials are important. Hence, Star Auto supports Nigeria’s quest for inclusive growth as most materials employed are locally sourced.
At the factory, there are a transformer and generators of different sizes. According to findings, one of the generators consumes 1200 litres each day. It is also gathered that at least the company spends on diesel each day was N35000.
Star Auto Industries incidentally stopped production for three years, because of certain turbulent problems in the industry. One is reportedly sabotage by a group of people who went to China and cloned his firm’s products with his brand name, selling it much less than he did. The result of it was that the brake pads created a lot of problems for users, who eventually stopped buying the firm’s brake pads. “A brake pad that cost us N700 to produce was sold for N300,’’ he said.
The CEO acknowledges assistance from the Bank of Industry (BoI), which has helped in so many ways. The firm too is working round the clock to re-organise and work with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). But Ukachukwu is not happy over import duty reduction for brake pads in 2004, from 25 percent to 10 percent, a phenomenon that has remained unchanged, adding that it has untold consequences.
“Substandard brake pads from Asia is one of the causes of accidents in the country,’’ Ukachukwu added.
By: ODINAKA ANUDU