Is Nigeria ripe enough to have its own automobile industry? The answer is no. For the country to be manufacturing automobiles, it must be able to produce at least 85% of the components locally. A wide range of materials are used for making automobiles. These include iron (which is made into steel), aluminium, glass, polymer (plastics and fibre reinforced composites, rubber and textile fibres). Traditionally, metal alloys were used but since the last 50 years, plastic materials have been of great interest in the automotive industry due to their lightweight, long shelf life, and low fuel consumption. Metal alloys are heavyweight and are susceptible to dents, dings, and corrosion.
When manufacturing automobiles, polymer is a significant component. Polymer contains plastics, rubbers, fibre reinforced composites, foams, and textiles. To give some examples of how polymer is used, the rubber from polymer is the material used for car tires; seat belts and seats come from textiles. The polymeric materials for automobile applications may either be thermoset or thermoplastic. Thermoset resins raw materials include natural rubber (for tyres and a blend containing thermoplastic for bumpers). Engineering polymers used for various automobile applications include polyurethane for bumpers and gas cans; polyvinyl chloride for pipes, doors, sheathing of electrical cables and instrument panels. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene for body parts, dashboards and wheel covers. Polyamide 6 and 66 (Nylon 6 and 66) for gears, bushes, cams, bearings and weatherproof coatings. Polystyrene for car fittings and equipment housing. Polyoxymethylene for interior and exterior trims, fuel system and small gears. Polycarbonate for bumpers and headlamp lenses. Polymethylmethacrylate for windows and screens. Polybutylene terephthalate for door handles, bumpers and carburettor components, polyethylene terephthalate for gear housing, headlamp retainer, engine cover and connector housing. Acrylonitrile styrene acrylate, similar to acrylonitrile butadiene styrene but with greater toughness and rigidity – for housings, profiles, and interior parts. All the above are engineering polymers. Commodity polymers that are used are polyolefins – polypropylene and high impact polyethylene. The engineering polymers are not produced in Nigeria but the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation produces the polyolefins which are not used in large quantities. If Nigeria is only producing less than 5% of automobile components, the country is not a manufacturer but an assembler.
In terms of safety, from windshields to bumpers, various components of plastics are safe with different safety roles to play. The seat belts made of polyester and nylon airbags have saved countless lives worldwide. Filling roof supports with plastic foam helps to strengthen the roof structure in the event of a rollover. The plastic foam inside door panels and front and back bumpers absorbs the impact of a collision. This is in conjunction with blends containing elastomeric material blended with thermoplastic polymers. It has been shown that reducing the weight of a vehicle above its centre of gravity can increase rollover resistance of the vehicle. This can only be accomplished by using plastics. The headlamp lenses have been updated with transparent shatter-resistant polycarbonate. Gasoline tanks made of plastics are very common in most vehicles now due to their lightweight, no welded seams and are less likely to split in a collision. The process of producing this gasoline tank is known as co-extrusion. Fuel economy is another major advantage of using polymeric materials. Presently, components of plastics in a car are about 14% but when we include other polymeric materials (tyres, textiles, elastomers, etc), it is more than 30%. By 2020, it is anticipated that the average car will incorporate about 75% polymeric materials.
The research activities in the automotive industry are now in the area of fuel economy. In the USA, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require automakers to achieve fuel efficiency of more than 50 miles/gallon by 2025. Automakers are always looking to plastics as a way of achieving this. Thus the lighter the weight of a vehicle the lower the fuel consumption. A good example is the aerospace industry where the industry is making use of fibre reinforced composites for most of its components. America’s General Motors is concerned about the CAFÉ ratings of its passenger cars. GM noted that if the sales mix of its vehicles had been the same as its principal Japanese competitors, its CAFÉ rating would have been as follows: GM with Honda mix, 31.6 mpg vs Honda’s 30 mpg. GM with Nissan mix 29.4 vs 28.4 mpg for Nissan; GM with a Toyota mix, 30.3 vs 30.6 mpg for Toyota. GM’s actual rating was 27.1 mpg.
With the above, is Nigeria an automobile manufacturing country? I guess we are just assembling various automobiles with components manufactured in foreign countries. Nigeria could have been a leading automobile manufacturing country if the Volkswagen and Peugeot assembly plants were still alive. A good example is Malaysia’s Proton car. The idea of having auto plants in the country was brought forward by the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahatiar Mohammed, in 1983. The Malaysian partnered with Mitsubishi Motor Corporation, Japan. Mitsubishi supplied the engine. All other components including steel, aluminium, polymeric materials were all locally made. The first Proton Saga powered by Mitsubishi Orion 4G13 was launched on July 29, 1985. Today, due to innovation and technological advancement, Mitsubishi is no longer supplying the engine because it is now made locally. Various models of Proton that can compete with the best in the world are now available. The first automatic car I drove was Proton Saga when I was a Professor Madya at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang in 1996.
With the inception of automobile industry in Malaysia, the economy improved and cost of purchasing a car was dramatically reduced below 50 per cent. Proton is found in about 12 countries in South-East Asia. According to the Centre for Automobile Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, manufacturing autos is vital to a strong economy, since prosperity is so linked to mobility. Among the Group of 20 countries – USA, China, Japan, Germany, India, UK, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, South Korea, Argentina and the European Community, only one country – Saudi Arabia – does not have an auto manufacturing plant.
Everything in Nigeria is now made in China. According to the recent publication in Guardian Newspaper (Dec. 23rd 2016), A leading Chinese automaker, GAC Motor has released its best-selling Sports Utility Vehicle in the Nigerian market, the GS4. The unveiling, which took place in Lagos, attracted dignitaries, including the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, and representatives of the state How long are we going to continue like this? Nigeria is full of talents that can make things happen. If the politicians are not interested in the development of the automobile industry in this country, what of private sectors?
Thanks to Innoson Motors, Nnewi, Anambra State. According to the company, 70% of the components are locally made and the rest are imported from Japan, Germany and China. The should support this company to ensure that more than 85% of the components are locally made.
With that, the company can grow and Nigerians can buy made in Nigeria vehicles at a reduced cost. Tokunbo cars are already dead in the countries they were made but buried in Nigeria. Kudos to Innoson that is showing the way to move ahead. In most civilised countries, the automobile industry contributes more than 15 per cent workforce. Recently, in automotive world magazine (June 17, 2014), Constantine Biller explained the role of the automotive industry in bringing growth back to the global economy, citing the recent announcement from Volkswagen outlining its plan to invest $7bn in the North American car industry over the next five years, which epitomizes the strength of the global automatic market.
If the Volkswagen Assembly Plant in Nigeria is still in operation, probably today, it might have metamorphosed into a manufacturing plant where more than 80 per cent of the components will be available locally. Nigeria is ripe enough to have its own WAZOBIA autos. If some of the developing nations can do it, why not Nigeria? The Western Europeans have more cars/1000 people than anywhere in the world. Italy top the list with 591; Germany, 500, Japan, 475; USA, 463; China, 58, and India 18. Nigeria may be less than 10 per 1000.
- Prof. Gabriel Shonaike of the Faculty of Engineering, Lagos State University, Epe Campus, writes from Lagos State