Kiira Motors raving to go as it unveils long-distance Kayoola coach

The Kayoola KDC, rolling out of the temporary assembly facility at Luwero Industries
In Summary

Uganda’s Kiira Motors, will next week unveil the Kayoola Diesel Coach – KDC, the latest offering […]

Uganda’s Kiira Motors, will next week unveil the Kayoola Diesel Coach – KDC, the latest offering in the growing lineup of vehicles that the nascent automotive integrator, plans to manufacture from its final assembly facilities, now nearing completion in Jinja.

Designed to complement the all-electric Kayoola EVS of which two units are already on the road, the Kayoola KDC that will be launched on February 17, plugs the range shortfall of its green mobility sibling. Powered by a Cummins conventional diesel engine, the KDC can run for for more than 2200 kilometres on its 500-litre fuel tank. The bus was demonstrated to a section of the media on February 4, at Luwero Industries where it was assembled by Ugandan engineers.

According to KMC chief executive Paul Isaac Musasizi, although customers will have a choice between electric and diesel-powered versions of the KDC, this particular model is aimed at the tourism market where the buses will be used to reach remote locations that might not have charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

With a range of 300 kilometres on a single charge, the Kayoola EVS, is more suited for urban commuter services, although the prototypes have been going as far as Jinja and back on a single charge. 

The KDC which will soon start its own market validation tests, is one of the models that will be built at Kiira Motors 5000 vehicles a year initial assembly plant in Jinja. Civil works at the facility, initially projected for handover at the end June had reached 70percent completion at the end of January.  

Configured to a luxury interior featuring 47 reclining leather seats, a lavatory, on board Wi-Fi and CCTV cameras, it is one of the six prototypes the company has built through China Hi Tech Corporation (CTHC), which is participating in the programme as a technology transfer partner. The KDC conforms to EURO 111 emissions standards. KMC initially planned to adopt Euro 1V standards but was forced to scale back over concerns that East Africa may not have in supply, the kind of fuel to power such engines. 

“We were not sure about the availbaility of advanced diesel fuels on the local market. So, as part of de-risking the programme, we decided to build the first bus to Euro 111 standard. But the second platform whose components are in transit, will be a Euro 1V bus,” Musasizi told 256BN. 

The European Union has been enforcing emissions standards for heavy vehicles since the late 1980’s to regulate emissions of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and particle numbers. The standards which apply to both light and heavy vehicles are designated “Euro” followed by a number in Arabic numerals for light vehicles and Roman numerals for heavy vehiclesThe final standard is Euro 7, after which fossil fuel vehicles will be phased out in the EU. 

In all, KMC plans to have a fleet of six market validation vehicles – four electric and two powered by internal combustion diesel engines. Three buses are now in service while components for the other three are in transit.

Made or assembled in Uganda? 

After images of the KDC went public last week, a debate erupted on social media over whether KMC was actually manufacturing or simply assembling the buses. According to Musasizi, KMC designs and integrates all the systems on the vehicles it is building. For now, most of the vehicle components are contract manufactured for KMC until the domestic and regional automotive supply chain achieves the technical capacity and economies of scale to justify domestication of those functions. 

He explains that bus manufacturing is easier to domesticate because of the lower units required to achieve economies of scale.

“I would say that right from day one, you could domestically build your own chassis, frame and most of the unstamped body panels if your annual output is 300 units,” he explains.

The steel frame for the Kayoola EVS and some of the body panels for the Kayoola KDC have been locally sourced for instance. The Kayoola EVS requires 5.4 tons of steel to build. The volume that would be needed to build 300 buses a year, is sufficient for a domestic miller to invest in manufacture of automotive steel.  Roofings Limited has already indicated a willingness to start manufacturing automotive grade steel locally.

“A 5000 vehicles a year bus and truck plant such as the one we are building, is big by world standards,” Musasizi says, “because even the big bus manufacturers in Europe produce around 20,000 units a year.”  

Yet even at that scale, most bus manufacturers around the world don’t build their own power trains and still depend on Cummins to supply the engines. The only difference is that with such numbers, Cummins might open up in-country engine assembly facilities to align better with its customers. Cummins is a specialist heavy duty engine manufacturers that supplies top brands such as Mercedes Benz, Scania and Iveco, but does not build vehicles. 

The biggest bus manufacturing operation in Africa today, Iveco’s plant in South Africa, manufactures just 500 buses a year. It too relies on Cummins to supply the engines.

The front and back panels are the only stamped body parts on KMC’s buses. Besides the moving parts such as the engines and axles these are about the only body parts that need to be imported. But their manufacture can be domesticated once production reaches 5000 units a year.  

Musasizi compares what the company is doing to building a house. He asks: “Will you say you are not the one who built a house simply because you did not make the floor tiles and roofing sheets?”

The economies for sedans which are made up of more than 30,000 components, are even steeper. If you are operating at less than 5000 units a year, it does not make economic sense to even have a paint shop; you bring in painted body parts. At 15,000 units you can invest in a paint shop while at 30,000 you can do your own stamping (creating the shape profiles that define the appearance of the vehicle).

For the same reason, production parts such as motors and drive axles are supplied to the industry by specialist manufacturers.  

KMC will have its own body shop where the steel panels and framework will be cut and bent to shape, a chassis line, electro-coating and paint shop. KMC has laid out a roadmap for domestication of the supply chain starting with what can be locally achieved. It has carried out a survey that has identified potential domestic suppliers of parts such as batteries, ICT components, and body panels once the associated economies of scale milestones are achieved. 

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