As global attention is turning to the economy of Africa, and clamour for the development of a viable automotive sector is gaining ground on the continent, Ford Motors announced yesterday that it will begin the production of Ford Everest from its Silverton Assembly Plant, in Pretoria, South Africa.
With about 170 industrial robots, yearly production of about 85,000, above 85 per cent locally sourced materials, Ford said it would begin full production of Everest before the year runs out, turning out nothing less than 120,000 vehicles by 2018 from a single factory yearly.
While the sector is currently on standstill in Nigeria, Plant Manager of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, Silverton Assembly Plant, Kevin Heunis, said more than 60 per cent of the vehicles produced from the plant are imported to Europe and other countries.
Currently, Ford builds only Ranger, its best selling product in Africa, but beginning from October this year, full scale of production of Everest would commence, Heunis said during a media tour of the plant. This is coming as a delegation from African Association of Automotive Manufacturers (AAAM), led by the Chairman, who is also President, Ford Motor Company Sub-Saharan Africa Region, Jeff Nemeth, on a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari last week, harped on the need for a policy environment that would unlock the economic potential of the continent, particularly in the automotive sector.
Nemeth, whose organisation is currently operating an assembly plant in Nigeria in partnership with Coscharis Motors, had said: “As the African continent becomes increasingly important within the global economy, it is crucial that we develop an auto sector strategy backed up by incremental investments in infrastructure, skills development and in-market localization programmes.”
To him, this will make new vehicles more affordable, boost the industrialisation of the economy and lead to the growth of middle-income households, which will be the main driver for new vehicle sales, particularly as most markets on the continent are dominated by used vehicles.
The Silverton factory, which has close ratio of male and female workforce has core factory activities taking over by industrial robots to simplify operations, enhance precision and keep global standards, Heunis said.
While global economy is under pressure and Nigerians dealers groan over lack of patronage, Heunis stated that the company had not seen a reason to slow down production as the factory basically build vehicles, which are pre-ordered.
On product standardisation, the plant manager said the products adhere strictly to global standards and have not recorded recall problems for the past 12 years but individual markets determines specifications of products that must get into their countries.
“We are very particular about the country and the market. Some countries request a cheaper vehicle as they can get provided it meets certain requirements. But every vehicle goes through the same process. We are very open to market requirements. This makes our job easier. The customers determine the variation we produce,” Heunis said.
Against the tradition in the Nigerian automotive sector, undergoing revamped through the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), where assembly plants assemble different models, the Silverton plant focus on a single model become success in it before proceeding to other models.