Business / Auto Global

Chinese wheels really start rolling in East Africa

By Wang Chao (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-15 06:57

Vehicle giant looks ahead with its first factory in the Kenyan capital, reports Wang Chao in Nairobi

Beiqi Foton Motor Co's commitment in Africa used to be little more than an annual meeting with local dealers.

But on Saturday, production started at its new assembly plant in Nairobi, meaning its vehicles are likely to appear in much larger numbers soon across the East Africa region.

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The company, along with the Beijing government, is set to sign an agreement with Nairobi to offer advice on a growing problem in the burgeoning Kenyan capital: traffic congestion.

The biggest city in Kenya is the transportation and business hub of East Africa, but much like in Beijing, its streets are struggling to cope with a massive growth in cars and commercial vehicles.

A report by IBM Consulting listed Nairobi as one of the world's most congested cities, estimating that $430 million is wasted every year as a result of congestion, largely due to obsolete public transportation systems.

Foton, which designs and manufactures trucks, buses, sport utility vehicles and agricultural machinery, will join with the Beijing government to help create a plan to reconfigure and relocate the city's bus stops, phase out obsolete buses and improve the traffic light system.

Foton will also ask local authorities to buy its flagship product, the alternative-fuel bus from Foton AUV (Asian utility vehicle).

Foton already has a 25 percent share of Beijing's public bus fleet. Huo Yan, director of marketing and branding for its passenger vehicle division, said its Kenyan expansion will be a huge leap forward.

Instead of pure exports, the company is now a truly local operation offering workable economic solutions.

"This is a very rare opportunity for Chinese automakers, and we are very proud of that," Huo said.

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