Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
BARELY a month after enrolling at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in 2008 to study mechanical engineering, the sharp-witted Tatenda Mungofa (33) was forced to drop out of college due to economic hardships.
Today, Mr Mungofa is the founder and chief executive officer of Africa’s first black-owned car manufacturing company, Mureza Auto Company. For the first time, the company exhibited at the just ended Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in Bulawayo and scooped a prize for being the best foreign exhibitor in the automobile category.
Coming from a very humble background in the sprawling suburb of Warren Park in Harare, Mr Mungofa’s childhood dream was to become a car designer.
At a young age, he got fascinated by cars, drawing inspiration from his father who was a mechanic. Mr Mungofa would draw cars and he gradually nurtured his skill through designing cars using sketchpads, his laptop and the internet.
After mastering the basic principles, he then entered into a design competition to validate his skills on the world stage.
Mr Mungofa came third in that competition, but unfortunately by virtue of his nationality, organisers prohibited him from travelling to Croatia where the finals were being held.
This however did not weigh him down as he continued to develop his skills in car designing.
Mr Mungofa represents a new crop of young people who are leaving indelible footprints on the global motoring industry.
Mureza Auto Company is registered in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Mr Mungofa said his vision is to become the leading car manufacturer in Africa. The company, which has operations in South Africa and Iran, is working on modalities to set up a manufacturing plant in Zimbabwe.
“Mureza Auto Company originates from Zimbabwe and has operations in South Africa and Iran. I am actually the founder and CEO of the company as well as head of design,” he said. “We design and manufacture our own vehicles.
Our first offering in the market is Prime8, which we showcased at the just ended Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in Bulawayo as our new brand in the automobile industry.”
The company was in March 2021 licensed in South Africa to build and distribute its Prim8 models, based on the SAIPA Quick. It is assembled from SKD kits in the Automotive Supplier Park in Rosslyn, Pretoria.
The comprehensive specification of the top model includes keyless entry, seven-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, satnav, reversing camera, cruise control, parking sensors, audio system, air conditioning, power-adjustable driver’s seat, four airbags, electronic stability control, ABS brakes and tyre pressure monitoring.
The Prim8 line-up, consisting of two models on the market, are going for US$13 500 (or equivalent in local currency) in Zimbabwe and R196 000 in South Africa.
Other models set to be rolled out next year include the Prime8-inspired T1 pickups, SUV, Sedans, EVs and the Athlete and Tusker.
Mureza has a joint venture with the Iranian SAIPA Group, Société Anonyme Iranienne de Production Automobile, which is registered in France but based in Tehran.
The SAIPA Quick was released in Iran in March 2017 and is now also exported to India. The compact crossover is based on the X200 platform developed for the SAIPA Tiba and Saina models, with architecture from the third-generation Kia Rio.
“At our Iran factory, we have 350 workers running a production of 200 units per day for Prima8 and this vehicle carries two brand names so that we are able to gain a bit of capacity. They sell it in Iran under their name and here in Africa we sell it under our name,” said Mr Mungofa.
“So, we are starting the African journey now and the team in South Africa has 12 people because its mainly administrative. In Zimbabwe, we have less than 20 people, but we hope that within the next couple of months, the number will increase significantly.”
Mr Mungofa said they are already working on setting up a local factory in Harare with future plans underway to also establish another facility in Bulawayo.
“We want to produce these cars locally in Zimbabwe and that is one of the major reasons why we showcased our product at the ZITF. We intend to localise production and through our global network we think we can recapacitate the industry,” he said.
“Our team is very young and vibrant. The Prim8, which we showcased at the ZITF, is powered by a 1,5-litre automatic four-cylinder petrol engine, but it will then evolve into an electric vehicle after we have finished putting up our electric charging vehicle infrastructure network which will happen between now and March 2022.”
Mr Mungofa said they are in discussions with the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) about that concept of introducing electric cars.
“The price of the product is US$13 500 and we will have more units including pick-up trucks as well as sedans that will cost less than US$10 000,” he said.
Mr Mungofa said he was happy that he has finally realised his childhood dream of producing his own vehicle.
“Cars have always been my passion. My dream was to build my own brand of vehicles that African people could be proud of. Part of that dream was also to build an industrial empire that could employ as many people as possible,” he said.
After completing his A-Level studies at Fletcher High School in Gweru, Mungofa enrolled at the UZ for just two weeks before dropping out.
“I did sciences in high school and went to UZ for the greater part of two weeks. It was during a very difficult period and I was forced to drop out. I then went into entrepreneurship and started selling phones, laptops and stationery until I ended up selling cars,” he said.
“I started training myself on how to design cars relying mainly on internet tutorials. I would use sketchpads, my laptop and the internet. After mastering the basic principles, I entered into international design competitions and came out third.”
Mr Mungofa said he was prevented from travelling to Croatia where he was supposed to participate in the international car designing competition because he was from Zimbabwe.
Organisers of the event advised him to create his own brand, marking the beginning of his inspiring journey.
“Mureza started as a car sales business in 2009 that operated until 2016 in Zimbabwe and we sold more than 300 cars during that period. In 2012, I entered the Scuderia design challenge and after coming third globally, I was encouraged to start my own brand of vehicles,” said Mr Mungofa.
He said after doing some online research, he realised that there was an opportunity for an African car manufacture and he then travelled to South Africa to engage the suppliers on how they could work together.
By 2016, Mr Mungofa had gathered enough information on how to manufacture cars and subsequently registered Mureza Auto Company, which designed concepts for manufacturing.
“We were fortunate to find an OEM partner who adopted one of our designs into a commercial product and the Prim8 was born,” he said.
Mr Mungofa said he was inspired by the country’s national anthem to name his company “Mureza”, a Shona word for “the flag”
“I felt that the country was generally being held in low esteem with our national flag always featuring last on any internet search. I then decided to take this as a challenge to raise the flag in the automotive industry.”
Mr Mungofa said they are building a dealership network which will create at least 1 000 jobs over the next few years in Africa.
“My hope is to see African car brands dominating global markets. I believe Africans have got what it takes to transform the automotive market. We recently rolled out PROJECT 100 which was aimed at securing orders from the early adopters of our brand,” he said.
“This is the rolling out of a limited-edition of the Prim8. There are more product ranges like pickups, SUVs, sedans and EVs that will be rolled out soon.”
Mr Mungofa said they are also working on partnering with SMEs among other promising entrepreneurs in Africa to grow their businesses.
“Despite what people think, Africa has enough financial capacity to build any project it desires if there is unity of purpose and as long as African consumers can support such initiatives. It is time for Africa to prosper and Africans should lead in this investment drive,” he said.
“In Zimbabwe, we have a challenge of importing cars and we are actually one of the biggest importers of vehicles in Africa. We therefore want to help Zimbabweans and Africans as a whole to be able to own brand new cars and that is the main drive behind our products such as Prime8.” — @mashnets
Article Source: The Chronicle