VON stirs auto industry with modern plant, home-made buses
By Moses Akaigwe
Friday March 23, 2012
The revamped VON Automobile Nig Limited has declared that its mission in the auto industry is to provide for the domestic and Sub-Saharan markets, vehicles built by Nigerians, with significant local value-addition. It is also aligning itself with government’s policy of using local production as a tool for economic transformation.
The declaration is coming four months after the production of three models of Ashok Leyland mass transit buses commenced at VON Automobile in Ojo, Lagos, and during a tour of the multi-billion naira plant, which revealed a chain of recently installed modern production facilities.
Daily Sun Motoring learnt during the visit that the task of reviving the former Volkswagen of Nigeria Limited, which was moribund for about two decades, dove-tailed into the vision of the new investors, the Stallion Group of Companies, to develop a state-of-the-art auto plant that would rival the best in its class. The plant’s current capacity was put at 2,000 buses per annum, which is “expandable with minimal effort”.
Commenting on developments since November, 2011, when the plant started rolling buses off its assembly lines after a hugely cost-intensive turn-around, the Managing Director, Mr Tokunbo Aromolaran, enthused that the first positive challenge came in form of the order placed by the Federal Government for the mass transit scheme floated as part of the gains of the petroleum subsidy withdrawal in January.
He said his company was tasked to provide hundreds of the buses for the new scheme, stressing that many transporters had shown an unwavering preference for the home-made Ashok Leyland buses.
“The Ashok Leyland buses we make here are even better than those that are imported”, the Managing Director disclosed, as he expressed satisfaction with the favourable reactions the buses had been receiving from government officials and the bus users, who are also pleased with the adequate after-sales back-up arrangement made for the vehicles by VON Automobile. “This was a testimony to the ruggedness and functionality of the vehicles”.
The production of three models of Ashok Leyland brand, it was gathered during the visit, was part of the first phase of activities at the rejuvenated plant. The current product portfolio includes the Falcon, a 42-seater city bus (with capacity for 100, if you add standing passengers) which has been part of the BRT bus project in Lagos; the Hawk, a 31-seater (with total capacity for 85); and the Eagle, a 28-seater bus, popular among institutions and corporate bodies. The plant has a current capacity of 2,000 buses per annum, “expandable with minimal effort”.
Phase 2 of the project will entail the production of commercial trucks and pick-up vans in an ultra-modern plant with an annual capacity of 15,000 vehicles from the third quarter of 2012. The product ranges for this phase will include the Volkswagen, Hyundai and Foton brands of commercial vehicles.
The company said it is committed to raising the local content levels in its vehicles year on year, culminating in an average of over 50 percent by the third year of production. Training and development of local staff, we were informed, had produced encouraging results in terms of the quality of the finished product.
Aromolaran acknowledged the enormous encouragement received by the auto industry from the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. “Uncertainty and disrespect for the rule of law has never been supportive of industrial development…This government has created a stable polity and is developing policies aimed at supporting local production in the long-term.
“We have responded in like manner by committing to developing the second and subsequent phases of the assembly project. Vehicles produced by Nigerians from our facility will soon replace wholly imported vehicles that have so far given the Nigerian consumer little choice. We will also be producing for markets in the Africa sub-region south of Egypt and north of South Africa, reversing the trend of foreign exchange outflow to one of foreign exchange earnings”.
From the welding section to the trim line and the paint section, the plant was impressive all the way. To ensure top class finishing, a line-up of ultra-modern booths for sundry paint/primer application are in place. They include those for structural painting, primer coat, surface coat and top coat, as well as a booth for paint inspection.