In 1986 the Kenyan government pursued an ambitious plan to develop the country’s first locally-made vehicle. However, the Nyayo Car, as it was named, never hit the market.
But that dream to produce a Kenyan-made car has come true, championed by entrepreneur Joel Jackson (30) with the backing of domestic and international investors. At a plant in Thika, a town outside Nairobi, Mobius Motors is building a mass market vehicle, specifically designed for the poor road conditions in Kenya.
The start-up auto firm has received the backing of US billionaire Ronald Lauder through his New York headquartered PanAfrican Investment Co., LLC.
One of the local investors behind Mobius Motors is the Chandaria Group, a Kenyan diversified group of companies. The investment is led by Darshan Chandaria, CEO of the Chandaria Group.
Chandaria says he invested in Mobius Motors because of the automaker’s potential to expedite the growth of early stage businesses, and to “enhance affordable mobility for budding entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid”.
“It’s an opportunity for them to own a cost-effective, reliable and functional vehicle which will definitely enable them to run their businesses more efficiently,” says Chandaria. “In rural Kenya today we are using second hand imported vehicles which are not suited to the poor road conditions. We are custom building a vehicle to suit the Kenyan road conditions.”
Solving the challenge of immobility
Mobius Motors was established by Joel Jackson, a British computer science graduate who was inspired by his experiences in rural Kenya. In 2009 Jackson was working with a start-up forestry venture and noticed that one of the biggest hurdles communities faced was immobility. So he embarked on building a car for the poor road conditions in Kenya.
In late 2014 the automaker’s Mobius II model hit the showrooms. The eight-seater vehicle features no frills such as air conditioning, but it scores high on key functionality and is fit for travelling and carrying goods over long distances on bumpy dirt roads. At US$11,000 it is the lowest priced new vehicle in Kenya.
One of Mobius Motors’s customers is Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta who reportedly placed an order after a test drive at an exhibition.
But even with its lower price compared to other new cars, Chandaria notes that Mobius Motors is indeed an ambitious project.
“It’s high risk… but [Mobius Motors] has the ability to positively transform the economies of African countries. It is an opportunity to have a massive social impact on the lives of Kenyans and Africans as we grow the business.”
Chandaria met Jackson two and half years ago in Mauritius at the African Leadership Network’s Annual Gathering and the two immediately grew an interest in working together.
“I really like working with like-minded entrepreneurs. With Joel our thinking is on the same wavelength and our skills complement each other,” says Chandaria. “For Mobius we were aligned in terms of our passion, dedication and an appreciation of the fact that businesses should not only focus on financial gains but social impact.”
Mobius Motors has also tapped highly-skilled professionals as its advisors, including Michael Joseph, the celebrated former CEO of Safaricom who is credited with growing the telco’s subscriber base from less than 20,000 to over 13.3 million within a decade and launching the mobile money service M-Pesa.
In the next five years Mobius Motors plans to grow its business across East Africa.
“It is really going to be a matter of how we can make this great vehicle accessible to as many people as possible. We are working on innovative solutions such as cost-effective and flexible financing options,” says Chandaria.
Mobius Motors will then embark on a pan-African strategy with the aim of becoming “one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of vehicles in Africa”.