After about seven years’ presence in Nigeria, Zahav has joined the exclusive club of pick-up brands produced locally with the aim of meeting specific needs of the market.
The pick-up trucks produced in Ikotun, Lagos, at a new plant built by Zahav Automobile Nigeria Limited is to roll out variants of the commercial vehicle, including 4×4, 4×2, single-cabin and double-cab, as well as petrol and diesel engine models. Capable of producing 24,000 units per annum at full capacity (about 2,000 units a month), the Ikotun plant also plans to start the production of Zahav SUV, which like the pick-up, is already making inroads in the market as imported fully built up vehicle.
Welcoming some members of the press who were on a visit to the plant recently, Nasser Jammal, the managing director, disclosed that formal production commenced in February, following a long test-run which began in July 2012.
Jammal informed guests that customers who were used to imported Zahav pick-ups and who have driven those produced by the new plant will not find any difference between the two, because, according to him, quality standards are not compromised by the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, Jammal is full of regrets for embarking on the project of transiting from importing FUBs to setting up a modern production facility that gulped about N2billion, instead of channeling the fund into expanding his import of finished vehicles which would have ensured a quicker return on investment.
At present, the plant rolls out about 50 to 70 units a month, which is far below the possible capacity of about 2,000 a month. Zahav’s venture into vehicle manufacturing was in response to Federal Government’s call on key players in the automotive sector to invest in local production.
The call by top government officials, he recalled, came with promises of better operating environment, including policies that would empower locally made automobiles to compete favourably with imported finished products.
He lamented that years after setting up the plant, test- running the assembly lines and up till now that formal production has commend, he was yet to see the support the federal government promised the auto on industry
“I am regretting going into auto manufacturing,” the Zahav Chief Executive Officer stated as he took the visitors through the various sections of the plant which was busy with the production of double-cabin pick-ups at the time of the tour.
Among the challenges militating against progress in the local auto industry which Jammal felt government ought to have addressed is the low tariff differential between CKD sets for local production and the imported finished products.
While importers of FUB vehicles can easily adjust their prices to get more patronage for their products owning to low overheads, Nigerian auto plants, he said, price their vehicles with very little profit margins because of high cost of production.
“If the environment is made better for us, in the next few months, we can make more investments, like installing heavy machines in order to raise the local content in Zahav vehicles to a very high level. if government backs auto makers by reducing the advantage importers presently enjoy, believe me, we will immediately respond by invest more on painting, welding and stamping (which will cost nothing less than Euro-3m) and then mobilize local input,” suppliers.
The results, he remarked, would manifest by way of more competitively priced Zahav model range, more jobs for the citizenry and a more developed auto industry.