A twenty-five-minute interview is a so much time to be given to one enquirer, considering the number of people that need his attention. When he spoke, he was so precise that you do not need any follow-up. For him, vehicle manufacturing has come to roost in Nnewi in South East Nigeria. So loves this town which harbours stream of large manufacturing halls that can be as big as twenty football fields put together, that he branded one of the vehicle products with it, UMU, a sedan from the Innoson Vehicle stable. He spoke to NIK OGBULIE.
Sir, how did you come into this? We have seen a marvel of a kind of investment in automobile manufacturing.
Thank you very much. My name is Mr Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman Innoson vehicle manufacturing. I started as a normal businessman who sold motorcycles and motor spare parts. is experience opened my eyes to a lot of discoveries? From my experience, I discovered a better way to make motorcycle cheap and affordable in Africa. I also took a look at cars in Nigeria.
I came to realize that cars are expensive in Nigeria because these cars are imported and that if we can localize it here and do certain jobs here, the price will be cheaper. That spurred me into action. I would gather the components I can get here and the ones I can’t find here, I get from overseas. That is why our motor parts are better than any other in Nigeria.
A drive around Nigerian roads reveals that the Innoson brand has got a strong foothold on the Nigerian soil and this makes us proud because it is our very own. How did the dream start?
When you set out to do something and study about it, you will definitely find a way of making it achievable. I studied what to do to make the price of the vehicle to be affordable when compared to the price of vehicles in other countries in Africa. So I decided that the only way is to localize and produce it here and that is why the price is now coming down. As we introduce more changes the price will continue to come down and after some time it will tally with that of cars overseas.
Everybody will prefer buying a new one instead of buying fairly used. e truth is that in Nigeria and other African countries, people no longer drive new cars, but now I want to bring them back to start driving new vehicles. I will produce cars that are very affordable and they will prefer using them than buying anyone from overseas.
How did you really start this dream? You said you were a motor- parts seller but you later delved into real manufacturing. At what year did you start?
I started with a motorcycle and later went into sales of vehicles. At the time I started sales of motorcycle parts, a motorcycle in Nigeria was sold for 150,000. I looked at why it is expensive. I calculated all the components of the motorcycle and realized that the price is not up to 150,000 so I decided to find a solution to produce a motorcycle here. I had to do some research. I then went overseas to buy the complete motorcycle parts to assemble and couple it here. en we had only three or four companies dealing with motorcycles in Nigeria. Leventis was producing Honda motorcycles, Boulos produced Yamaha, Yamaco too produced Yamaha while CFAO was producing Kawasaki. These were the only companies that were into a sale of the motorcycle when I started and their cheapest motorcycle was 150,000.
I began by getting the spare parts, using local people to assemble them and then I would sell the complete motorcycle for 80,000 with good pro t. After some time, I began importing them in containers. I started by bringing in three containers that took me about three months to sell. I went again and brought five containers which took me about half a month to sell. People began to trust my brand and pay me in advance before it arrived.
So I began bringing 10,20,30 to even 200 containers. My motorcycle brand became a household name. I did this for five years. My brand sold so well that other people discovered I was making pro t and decided to venture into the same business. I wanted to remain an oat so I looked at a way of still reducing the price. I established a plastic plant in Enugu to produce plastic components for the motorcycle. is made me reduce the price to 60,000.
All those people that ventured into the business started coming to me to buy the components and plastic to use in manufacturing their own. I reduced the price to 60,000 and it made me happy because it was like a dream come true. I then turned my attention to a motor. I came to realise that the price of a car can be reduced if we localize it and that’s what I am doing on the motor now. I intend selling fully air-conditioned automatic cars for two million naira instead of eight million naira. This, I believe, will help Nigerians buy new cars instead of fairly used ones.
For every successful company, there is always a very successful workforce. How did you source the team?
I am using the same team I have been using for the past 30 years. Most of my workers have stayed here for years because we grow together with the company. We work together here; everybody has a part to play.
What percentage of your team can you say have spent the most time with you?
I have some workers that have stayed with me for 30 to 35 years. Even my General Manager has been with me for 45 years.
What can you describe in your own way as the mission statement or your vision generally in having this company set up?
Our vision statement is to be a dominant, committed and dynamic player in the corporate world by manufacturing and making available to the citizenry, brand new products of first choice quality in Nigeria. Our mission statement is to satisfy the plastic and automotive world’s requirements of our customers, using the highest international standards in automation and technology, with a motivated and trained indigenous workforce.
Our commitment is to have a devoted management team with a wealth of experience in their specialties, who are able to make quick decisions on new products and their development, which will always put the group a step ahead of her competitors.
You came up with wide range of products for vehicles, what is your marketing target, within Nigeria and Africa. Are you looking at a time where this vehicle will be all over Africa? If yes, which country do you intend starting with?
Yes, that is my target and I will start with Nigeria.
How many vehicle models do you have?
I have up to 11 models now.
What is your long-term plan? You are not starting a company to digress, to leave it and do another thing.
Yes, when everything is okay, we will go public so that other people can come and join us to be able to serve Africa.
If you are talking of that, are you not part of the Nigerian businessmen that do not want people to take over what they have laboured for all through their life?
Going public will help to sustain a business so my plan is to sustain the business even after me.
Let us go to funding. It is one-area businessmen don’t talk about. So seeing all these things, when we say maybe loans, investment, and partnership, cooperative, how are you sustaining this kind of heavy investment?
I use the Bank of Industry and Afreximbank in Egypt. These two banks are sponsoring me and giving me good support. I believe that when you take a loan and you pay, they will give you more. So when you are paying well, you have access. Getting money is not a problem because I am playing well. I am the number one customer of Bank of Industry in Nigeria, same with Afreximbank. Nigerian banks don’t sponsor anybody; they only collect your money and keep. Without Bank of Industry and Afreximbank, it will be di cult for industries to survive in Nigeria.
How do you qualify the patronage and purchases you have got from institutions and individuals? How can you say the sales are going?
I get more patronage every day. If I had 10 customers this year, next year I will have 20. So that’s why I said in the near future, I will package the company to go public so that more people will come in and help develop it.
Have you started the packaging now?
Yes, I have. Some foreign and Nigerian companies have declared their interest to be part of us.
I saw a few light-skinned people in your workforce. Do you have a technical partnership with any company right now or are they fully employed by you?
No, they are fully employed by me. I employ both foreign and Nigerian experts who are well grounded on the field. I started with 60 foreign experts but today they are only 15. Every year we reduce, according to what we know because I told them to be training my workers. I don’t pay them to come and work, I pay them to train my workers and I send some of my workers abroad for training too.
In this country, we have a lot of difficulties or challenges. What are some challenges that confront you on a daily basis and how do you intend to solve such challenges?
But the important thing is your ability to surmount those challenges when they stare you in the face. I experience challenges every day and my duty is to solve them. e experts work for me but my main job is to solve their problems. I am not an engineer but my duty is to provide a conducive work environment for the experts to work.
As a business-inclined person, obviously you possess business skills but I don’t know how much of the technical skills you have. You were not trained as an auto-mechanism you trained yourself as a businessperson buying parts. So how have you transformed into what you have become today?
There are challenges the world over. All my life I have been into spare parts, motor and motorcycle to be precise, from there to motorcycle and now into cars. So I have a lot of experience in spare parts.
So many people have been hearing of Innoson but they cannot reach you. Now we have been able to reach you and we are the voice of the people in terms of what we do. What can you tell Nigerians especially young men facing difficulties?
What I am telling Nigerians today is that there is hope. Sometimes the young ones think that there is no hope in this country. ey run to other countries in search of greener pastures. I tell them that Nigeria is a virgin land where making money is a lot easier. You can make money easily in Nigeria more than anywhere else in the world because the important thing is for you to have an idea of how to do things and that thing will be yielding money, but you need the patience to grow it. Anything you grow yields pro there in Nigeria.
After producing all your cars, which one marvels or thrills you the most?
I am always happy when I see my vehicles plying our roads. I get satisfaction in myself. I still hope to do something better than all that I have done.
I recently had an encounter with a road transport company and when I asked why they don’t have any Innoson Vehicle for their commuting business, they narrated quality issues So what do you have to say concerning the quality of your vehicles?
That is not true. They said that because the bus was manufactured by a Nigerian. If the bus came from Japan, they will buy it without any complaints but because it is coming from a localized source. I use standard pans and parts for all my vehicles. Every car model has standard so you must buy the standard one and convert it to what you want. You can’t use a light pan.
Ghana has started buying my vehicles. I have orders now from Cote d’Ivoire. When I go to market a customer and I find out that the customer is not ready, I leave the customer. My vehicles are better than the rest because I use the best parts to couple it. If I find anything faulty in any of them, I remove it immediately and put the best. Even now, I use four suspensions for my vehicles because of the condition of our roads but other vehicle manufacturers use two.
I decided to start using four suspensions after producing military vehicles. Military vehicles use four suspensions and when I saw the importance of four suspensions in a vehicle, I decided to use it for all my vehicles. It helps in level areas. I also use four shock absorbers for my vehicles that are why when people are driving my vehicle they will never stop patronizing me because when you enter a gallop you will understand why you are using it.
So let whoever said my vehicles are not strong, come with proof. Let him bring the car with a light pan and if I confirm that it is actually mine, I will gladly change it. That is an assurance but I bet you there is no such thing because I know the quality of what I put into manufacturing my vehicles.