The advent of the automobile has been of great importance in our economic history.
It has helped propel the efforts of mankind in the exchange of goods and services or mobility to unimaginable or even superfluous convenience.
Indeed, the automotive industry lubricates and facilitates the industrialization of the economy.
Charles Duly brought this wonderful technology to the land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers in 1902.
In 1961, the country will witness the creation of automobile assembly factories, far ahead of China or one of the economic Tigers of East Asia.
The British Motor Corporation (BMC) [Leyland and now Quest Motors] established an engine assembly plant in 1960 in Mutare, then in Umtali.
The Ford Motor Vehicle Plant (Willowvale Motor Industries) was established in 1961.
In 2018, the Zimbabwe Automobile Industry Development Policy (ZMIDP) was launched to revive this strategic sector.
It had an 11-year implementation schedule until 2030.
Subsequently, provisional statutory requirements were put in place.
Zimbabwe’s automotive sector is currently dominated by imports, especially used units.
It strangled the domestic motor vehicle manufacturing industry.
For example, statistics from the Central Vehicle Registry (2018) show that Zimbabwe imported 239,042 used vehicles for the period January 2015 to September 2018.
As a result, the domestic auto industry has seen its market share shrink to unsustainable levels.
This situation needs to be rectified.
The automotive industry is witnessing massive technological innovations.
From groundbreaking battery-powered innovations from Elon Musk and Tesla Motor Company to innovations focused on information and communication technologies now common in the automotive sector, Zimbabwe’s industry has significant gaps to fill.
While South Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of economies of scale and geographic location, Zimbabwe can also develop its automotive sector to levels where it can contribute significantly to the overall gross domestic product.
The automotive industry is strategic.
It can facilitate the development of other industries such as battery, leather, radio, tire, bolt, nut and steel sectors.
According to Denford Mutashu of the Zimbabwe Retailers Confederation, the local vehicle assembly is failing to produce a US $ 5,000 car that the market demands due to low demand.
There is a visible dearth of support for the industry compared to how China has supported theirs growth.
China has invested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, thus constituting a pool of engineers, of people capable of inventing or improving things.
Trinity Engineering was running this business, unfortunately we didn’t give them the support they deserved.
The Japanese had entrusted us with an automotive technology transfer through Mazda and we were supposed to initiate the development of local components for the motor vehicle. Anyway, for the automobile, it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, but to improve the existing one. For example, Zimbabwe has large reserves of lithium.
Today’s automobile is going electric, powered by the lithium battery.
This is where Zimbabwe can contribute, take advantage of these lithium reserves and innovate with the battery.
The role of local innovators
It starts with the budget; how much we spend on research and development (R&D).
We have now created innovation poles in local universities and a significant percentage of the national budget should be reserved for R&D in these poles.
There should be investments in R&D for individual and institutional research.
Anything less, we will continue to lose all innovative brains.
The automotive industry is strategic and deserves all the support.
Ekironi Madzanira is a doctoral candidate at the Open University of Zimbabwe. His research explores the case of innovation for the revival of the automotive industry in Zimbabwe.