The initiative to produce vehicles at Suame Magazine in Kumasi is not dead.
According to a principal architect of the initiative, Nyaaba Aweeba Azongo, the blueprint of the project was still intact, and what was needed was the support of the government to bring the project back on stream.
Artisans at the Suame Magazine, operating under the Suame Magazine Industrial Development Organisation (SMIDO), a non-governmental organisation, that seeks to transform the enclave into a technological advanced industrial estate, commenced the car manufacturing project in 2013.
“A whole industrial survey was needed to settle on the cost of the transformation of the Suame Magazine into a modern industrial estate.
“Acqusition of land was key to kickstarting the whole process followed by technical survey, technical design and costing, and mobilisation of funds for development. We could not secure the land, Mr Azongo, who was the consultant to the project, told the Daily Graphic.
In addition, he said, power play within SMIDO worked against the project.
“There was power play within the organisation. Coupled with politics and lack of governmental support, the project crashed,” Mr Azongo said.
In that regard, he appealed to the government to support plans to revive the initiative.
A former President of SMIDO, George Asamoah Amankwa, also lamented how the project crashed. “I don’t want to say a lot of things,” he told the Daily Graphic.
SMARTI Turtle 1
In 2013, a prototype vehicle known as ‘SMARTI Turtle 1’ was built by 30 mechanics at Suame Magazine in a period of three months, in collaboration with Aardschap Foundation of the Netherlands, a non-profit foundation that specialises in action -research in places of self-organisation, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
The production of the vehicle was part of a grand programme set out by the SMIDO, to turn the face of the industrial enclave into a manufacturing hub.
SMATI is the acronym for Suame Magazine Automatics Technical Institute, an institutional engineering training concept for the artisanal engineering industry that was being pioneered by SMIDO.
The production of the Turtle 1 came after two earlier vehicles manufacturing initiatives in the country collapsed.
In the 1950s, the country was manufacturing its own cars (the Patuo series), while in the 1970s the concept car, Boafo was developed. All these, however, fizzled out.
Many Ghanaians were attracted to the vehicle especially when it was inaugurated by the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II during a visit to Suame Magazine in 2013.
After several test runs in Ghana, the car underwent a full-day testing at the Dutch Vehicle Registration Authority (RDW) at their test centre in Lelystad, the Netherlands in June 2013, becoming the first African car that was ever tested at the centre.
The car also made a promotional tour of Europe where it was showcased in several television shows in Germany and the Netherlands, and exhibited at several events, fairs and exhibitions.
In the testing report, the Technical Inspector at the Test Centre, Roman van Dijk, highlighted some strong points of the Turtle 1, such as the beautifully handmade bodywork and top construction.
However, he also made some critical remarks that were to guide the further development of the Turtle, which included technical knowledge and safety concerns.
Aardschap Foundation also stated, : “The Turtle 1 showcased the strengths , vitality and possibilities of Suame Magazine as a place for car manufacturing and the potentials of an African car.”
“The Turtle 1 is not European, American or Asian but truly African. The Turtle is able to perform heavy duty tasks. It is completely mechanical and can be repaired using simple tools,” the Foundation wrote.
It further stated: “As the construction and top are handmade, it is easy to rebuild the car to give it a different function such as a towing truck, lorry or community taxi. Being a turtle, it may not be the fastest car in the world but it can grow very old. Above all, it is robust, strong and functional. In other words, the Turtle is slow but steady,”
Following lessons learnt in the building of the Turtle 1, Aardschap approached the Automotive Institute of the University of Applied Sciences (Arnhem and Nijmegen) on whether the Turtle could be improved and developed further.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily Graphic , the consultant to SMIDO, stated: “The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) came in to adopt and fund a new industrial estate transformation project. The car production was to be the first innovative product to be credited to new industrial estate.”
Mr Azongo said the partners needed two conditions to be fulfilled by SMIDO.
“First, they wanted SMIDO to acquire a 1000 acre land for the project, and second, the government of Ghana was to pledge its support to the project including counterpart funding. But we could not meet these conditions.
“Possibly, next year, we will rebrand the car manufacturing project but, we would need the support of the government,” he said.
Fortunately, he said the blueprint forthe project was still in place.
Last week, the Daily Graphic visited the Waco Automobile Company workshop in Kumasi where the SMARTI Turtle 1 had been parked since its return from the Nederlands.
In an interview, the lead engineer for the production of the vehicle, Albert Waco Cophie, said the artisans were eager to see the car manufacturing project reactivated.
He said the only problem that was found with the car during the test run in the Netherlands was with the steering wheel, which could be worked on once the project was reactivated.
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