The Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited will today make history as the first indigenous car manufacturer in the country with the official unveiling of 500 made in Nigeria cars built at its Nnewi, Anambra State, plant.In this exclusive interview with CHIDI NNADI, the Chairman of Innoson Group, Dr Innocent Chukwuma, he looked at his journey into auto manufacturing, which he said began with his trading in motorcycle spare parts.Chief Chukwuma assured that his cars, which conform to international standards, would lower car prices in the country like he did when he started to manufacture motorcyles some years back. He also promised to use his auto company to boost the Nigerian economy as well as generate employment. Excerpts:What is your journey into auto manufacturing like?I started assembling business with motorcycle spare parts and later moved to motorcycle assembling. Later I moved again from motorcycle manufacturing to auto manufacturing. I passed through these stages before I started to manufacture vehicles in 2010, but the factory was built in 2007 at Nnewi. We are also into tyre manufacture with our factory in Enugu. We did not start all these lines of production in one day; we take them one after another. For example, we are manufacturing some of the vehicle components here while we only import the ones we cannot produce here.What are the first brand of vehicles you manufactured?We started manufacturing buses, but later added Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), pick-up vans, trucks and now cars, which we will commission today. We started to manufacture buses first because of its high demand in the country. But I knew from the beginning that we will produce all brands of vehicles and that we have achieved now.What is the market acceptance of your vehicles?Our vehicles are well accepted in the market, the dealers, the end users and Nigerians are happy with our range of vehicles. We are amazed by the demand and level of patronage of our vehicles by Nigerians. Individuals, corporate organisations, institutions, governments and other Nigerians are demanding our vehicles. Those who have used them attest that they are rugged, the type that can withstand the Nigerian roads which are usually rough. We are only praying that we would have enough vehicles to meet up the demands.What are the sources of your raw materials for the vehicles?We source our raw materials locally here while we import those we cannot readily get here. But we generate over 50 per cent of our vehicle components locally here.How affordable are your cars?We want to make sure that our cars are very affordable. We have done this before when we started motorcycles manufacturing and we are going to do it again with our cars. I can assure you that our cars will be highly affordable without compromising international standards on cars manufacture. We have cars of N1 million plus, N2 million plus and N3 million; we also have three models of cars under this price range.What are your marketing strategy and niche in the market?Innoson is a very strong brand in Nigeria and even beyond the country. All our products are of high quality, we don’t compromise on the quality of our products and we are known for this. So, Nigerians will definitely like our cars because they are of good quality and built specifically to withstand the Nigerian roads. Nigerians have good taste and appreciate quality products, so they will definitely love our cars, I am 100 per cent sure of it.What is the standard used by IVM in the manufacture of its cars?Auto manufacturing follows international standard, that is the same thing across the globe. So, we are adhering strictly to this international standard. Besides, the Standard Organisation of Nigera (SON) is supervising what we are doing, they come to our factory and they are happy with what we are doing. Our cars like the buses we started first to manufacture are of international standard and we are not going back on this.You said you also manufacture tyres?Yes, we also went into tyre manufacturing because we discovered that Nigeria has the best quality of rubber, the Nigerian rubber is so good, so I want to utilize it as raw material to develop the tyre industry in Nigeria. Also, you know that tyre is a very important component of vehicles; so since we manufacture vehicles here at Nnewi, it only follows that we must also manufacture tyres, which we believe will help to further lower the prices of our vehicles. We want to make sure that the local content of our vehicles is high as this will affect their prices for the betterment of the end users who are largely Nigerians.How are you going to sell these cars, do you have showrooms?We have designed to build state-of-the-art showrooms in the six geo-political zones of the country, including Abuja and Lagos. These showrooms will be supplying spare parts, sales of the vehicles and at the same time have a section for workshop which if your vehicles develop faults, you go and fix them there. You can see from the sketch drawing here that it is a masterpiece. The concept is that we will control the one at the headquarters in Abuja and Lagos while the dealers will control those in the zones for good synergy between the dealers and managers at the headquarters. Already, we have started to construct the showrooms in Abuja and Lagos.What is the workforce at your auto plant like, are you using expatriate staff?The major parts of the job will be done by Nigerian workers. We have a policy to encourage indigenous workforce except in cases where we cannot get the technical support needed in the plant locally. But we will first of all create jobs for Nigerians.How many cars are you rolling out today?We are rolling out 500 units. Already, some of the cars have been bought. We discovered that some people, as soon as they heard we have started producing cars, placed orders. This is because the cars are fantastic. You know our people used to say that good market sells itself. The demand already is quite impressive and when we launch today, we know the demand will skyrocket.There was a time the Federal Government demanded buses from your company but the quantity was not met, why?There is no way you can place order for large quantity of vehicles today and you have that number supplied to you immediately. But whatever quantity you want, if you place the order on time on the date of delivery, we will meet your demand. There is no quantity that is too much for us to produce. What we need is to increase our manpower to meet up the demand, but we must be given adequate notice.We understand that some state governments are using your vehicles, what is the feedback from these states about the performance of your products?Yes, a good number of states in Nigeria are already using the various types of our vehicle; buses, SUVs, trucks and now cars and they have found them very efficient and durable; they are very happy to use our brands. Our trucks are doing well in the states that are using them. Remember that we manufacture these trucks on specification and order; Abia, Enugu, Delta, Cross River and Benue states are so far the states we have manufactured trucks for, essentially for their waste disposal projects. And these states are quite happy when they compare the trucks they were using before and the IVM trucks.What are your challenges?Right now, we don’t have much challenges; sourcing of the raw materials is not too difficult, the raw materials are readily available. In fact, we now have more than 50 per cent local content. Already, we manufacture plastics which are components of some parts of vehicles and we manufacture them here. So, this is one of the reasons our vehicles are cheaper than others in the market.In the next 10 years, where do you think IVM will be?For now IVM is the first indigenous car manufacturer in Nigeria and so long as Nigerians are demanding our cars, in the next 10 years, our cars will help to grow the economy. We are sustaining what we are doing by the financial support of the Bank of Industry and the Automotive Council.What is your promise to Nigerians?One thing is sure; IVM cars will never disappoint Nigerians. We are here not only to promote the economy, but also to create employment for Nigerians. If we have more demands of our vehicles we will stand firm to increase our workforce thus reducing unemployment level in the country. I, therefore, enjoin Nigerians to take advantage of this new dawn, the IVM vehicles are their own and are here to serve them for the better.