Gauteng gets a taxi factory
A new automotive manufacturing plant has been established in Springs on the East Rand in Gauteng thanks to direct Chinese investment in the South African light commercial vehicle market.
Beijing Auto Works South Africa (BAW) will assemble and build a range of light commercials at the facility, which will employ 469 people. Factor in suppliers and dealers, and more than a thousand new jobs will be created. Some R196 million has been invested in the operation, which will have the capacity to produce 9 600 units a year in its first three-year phase.
BAW has been established by the Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Company (which has a 51 percent stake via its BAW subsidiary), South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation and China Africa Motors (which share the balance).
BAW produces a range of vehicles, including Jeeps for the Chinese military, light commercial vehicles, sport utility vehicles, minibuses and medium commercial vehicles. It has already exported units to South East Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Russia.
John Jessup, head of sales and marketing at BAW South Africa, says the establishment of the company represents an automotive milestone for our country. “The enterprise brings with it job creation and attractive product offerings in all major vehicle segments, starting with the taxi market, where we will be establishing many industry firsts in terms of servicing, financing and professional factory vehicle refurbishing.”
Minbus taxis represent a fairly substantial market in South Africa, with Jessup noting that they are responsible for 1,6 billion passenger trips in the country each year. He believes there will soon be a taxi replacement demand of 25 000 units a year in South Africa alone. “Then there is the sub-Saharan market, which will experience replacement demand in excess of this,” he adds.
Located in New Era, Springs, the plant will produce taxis on a semi-knocked-down (SKD) basis but with a final line identical to that of completely knocked-down (CKD) manufacturing plant. Following the first phase of operation over the next three years, the plant will move to full CKD manufacturing at greater capacity levels.
Ringing in the changes
Tony Godycki, head of production of BAW, says there were numerous logistical challenges in converting the plant from one that previously produced telephones into one producing taxis.
“Firstly, we had to get rid of tonnes and tonnes of telephone and communications wire. Then there was the fact that it was quite antiquated. For instance, the whole plant was air-conditioned with old-fashioned water chillers, huge compressors and underground tunnels.”
On an amusing note, Godycki says that 3 000 of the workers at the telephone plant were women – and the previous owners ensured that ablution facilities were more than adequate. “I think that there are more toilets here than in the whole of the southern hemisphere,” he laughs.
Jessup says taxis are just the beginning for the company. “We will also be entering the LCV, SUV and passenger car markets from next year – although the decisions whether to fully import or locally assemble these models are still under review.”