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TEDGlobal 2017

Joel Jackson: A vehicle built in Africa, for Africa

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Joel Jackson wants to reimagine transportation around the needs of the African consumer. He's designed an SUV that's rugged enough for long stretches of uneven terrain and affordable enough to be within reach of those who need it most. Learn more about the challenges of mobility and manufacturing in Africa -- and what a localized motor industry could mean for the future of the continent.

- Transport entrepreneur
TED Fellow Joel Jackson is the founder and CEO of Mobius Motors, set to launch a durable, low-cost SUV made in Africa. Full bio

Imagine if your daily commute
involved tens of kilometers
00:12
on these kinds of roads,
00:16
driving this kind of vehicle,
00:18
without any nearby service stations
or breakdown assistance.
00:20
For millions of drivers in many parts
of Africa, this is the norm.
00:23
Since over 90 percent
of passenger cars are imported,
00:28
often used,
00:30
they're just not designed for local usage.
00:32
High import duties
often compound the problem,
00:34
sometimes doubling the price of a car.
00:37
So most vehicles are either
too expensive or too unreliable
00:40
for the average consumer.
00:44
Well-designed vehicles are only part
of the transport challenge, though.
00:46
For every 100 adults in Africa,
00:49
less than five people
actually own a vehicle.
00:52
Public transport is available,
00:54
and in countries like Kenya,
it's often run by local entrepreneurs
00:56
using minivans like this.
00:59
But in most rural and peri-urban areas,
01:00
it's fragmented and unreliable.
01:03
In more remote areas without transport,
01:06
people have to walk,
typically tens of kilometers,
01:08
to get to school
or collect clean drinking water
01:11
or buy supplies from nearby markets.
01:13
Bad roads, disparate communities,
low average income levels
01:16
and inadequate vehicles
01:19
all impair the transport system
01:21
and ultimately constrain economic output.
01:22
Despite this constraint,
the Pan-African economy is booming.
01:26
Combined GDP is already
over two trillion dollars.
01:29
This is a massive commercial
and social opportunity,
01:33
not a helpless continent.
01:36
So why isn't there already
something better?
01:39
Around the world, automotive
is quarter the manufacturing sector.
01:42
But in Africa, it's generally
been overlooked by carmakers,
01:45
who are focused on larger,
established markets
01:48
and emerging economies
like India and China.
01:50
This lack of industrialization,
01:53
which itself creates a vicious-cycle
barrier to the emergence of industry,
01:55
has caused the dependence on imports.
01:58
There is a supply-demand disconnect,
02:01
with the vast majority of automotive
spending on the continent today,
02:03
essentially funding an international
network of car exporters
02:06
instead of fueling the growth
of local industry.
02:09
It's entirely possible to solve
this disconnect, though,
02:12
starting with products
that people actually want.
02:15
And this is what motivated me
to start Mobius,
02:17
to build a vehicle in Africa, for Africa.
02:20
To us, this meant reimagining the car
around the needs of the consumer,
02:25
simplifying nonessential features
like interior fixtures
02:28
and investing in performance-critical
systems like suspension
02:31
to create durable and affordable vehicles
02:34
built for purpose.
02:36
And built for purpose
is exactly where we started
02:38
with our first-generation
model, Mobius II,
02:41
which was designed
as a really rugged, low-cost SUV,
02:43
able to handle heavy loads
and rough terrain reliably.
02:47
This launched in 2015,
02:50
and we've now developed
the next-generation version
02:52
based on customer feedback.
02:55
For high stress and heavy loading,
02:57
we engineered a sturdy steel space frame.
02:59
To handle acute vibration
from rough roads,
03:01
we ruggedized the suspension.
03:04
For potholes and uneven terrain,
high ground clearance was a no-brainer.
03:06
And to make this something customers
could actually be proud to drive in,
03:10
we designed an aspirational
body aesthetic.
03:13
Underpinning all of this, we simplified
or eliminated components
03:16
like parking sensors and automatic windows
03:19
wherever we could,
03:22
to keep costs low
03:23
and sell this at half the price
of a five-year-old SUV in Kenya today.
03:24
The new --
03:30
(Applause)
03:31
The new Mobius II launches in 2018.
03:35
And while durable, affordable
vehicles like this are vital,
03:38
a broader solution to immobility
needs to go further.
03:41
Over the last decade,
03:45
a transport-centric, shared economy
has connected people across Africa
03:46
with minivans, auto rickshaws and sedans.
03:49
It's just not operated
very effectively or efficiently.
03:52
Enabling better access to transport
is all about strengthening
03:55
this public transit network,
03:58
empowering local entrepreneurs
who already offer similar services
04:00
in their communities
04:03
to operate these services
more profitably and more widely.
04:04
With this aim, we're taking
human-centered design a step further
04:08
and developing a transport platform model,
04:11
which enables owners
to plug in different modules,
04:13
like a goods cage or ambulance unit,
04:16
and run other services
like goods delivery or medical transport,
04:18
as well as public transport.
04:21
Transportation services
like this are the fundamental driver
04:23
of logistics, trade, social services,
04:26
access to education,
health care and employment.
04:29
The transportation grid
to physical economies
04:32
is akin to the internet
to virtual economies.
04:34
And the impact of increased mobility
is only part of the potential here.
04:36
Since the late 1700s,
the Industrial Revolution has catapulted
04:41
the development of economies
around the world
04:45
into thriving societies.
04:47
Today, manufacturing is still the engine
of economic growth and stability,
04:49
even as new technologies have inevitably
transformed the way we live.
04:52
Making stuff is important,
04:56
especially for nation-states wanting
to boost employment,
04:58
increase skills and reduce
import dependence.
05:01
But while few countries can skip
this industrialized stage,
05:03
many have negligible manufacturing output.
05:06
There are various reasons for this,
05:09
but one reason is universal:
hardware is hard.
05:11
(Laughter)
05:14
So what are the challenges to industry,
and how are we approaching them?
05:16
The first issue many people think of
is a lack of skilled labor.
05:20
In areas where access to good primary
and secondary education are limited
05:23
and employment opportunities are scarce,
05:27
a small skill base is inevitable.
05:29
But that doesn't mean it's immutable.
05:31
There's an abundance of smart, hardworking
and ambitious people in Africa,
05:33
obviously.
05:37
What's really lacking are good jobs
05:38
that offer a path not just to employment
but also professional growth.
05:40
The first person we employed
at Mobius over six years ago
05:44
was a mechanic named Kazungu.
05:47
Kazungu had gone to school
up to the age of 18
05:48
and worked as an odd-job mechanic.
05:51
Joining the company at the time
was a near-vertical learning curve.
05:53
But he rose to the challenge,
05:56
and with more technical guidance
from an expanding engineering team,
05:57
he's grown over the years
06:01
to lead a group of mechanics
in R&D prototyping.
06:02
A thirst for learning and the work ethic
to step up to a challenge
06:04
are values we now recruit on.
06:08
Pairing innate values like this
with on-the-job training and systems
06:09
has strengthened our skill base.
06:13
This works really well
on the production line,
06:14
where work can be systematized
around clear procedural instructions
06:17
and then reinforced through training.
06:20
In our experience, it is possible
to build a skilled workforce,
06:23
and we plan to hire hundreds more people
using this approach.
06:26
A second challenge is a lack of suppliers.
06:30
In countries like Kenya, there are only
a handful of automotive suppliers
06:33
manufacturing parts like electrical
harnesses, seats and glass.
06:36
It's a burgeoning group,
06:39
and without much demand from industry,
06:41
most of these suppliers
have no impetus to grow.
06:43
We've worked hard with a few of them
to develop the capacity
06:46
to consistently manufacture components
at the quality levels we need,
06:49
like this supplier in Nairobi,
06:52
who are helping to reduce
the production cost of metal brackets
06:54
and improve their ability
to build conformant parts
06:57
to our engineering drawings.
06:59
Supply and development is standard
practice in automotive globally,
07:01
but it needs to be applied
from the ground up
07:04
with a vast majority of local suppliers
07:07
to properly bolster the ecosystem.
07:08
And as production volumes rise,
these suppliers can employ more staff,
07:11
invest in better equipment
07:14
and continue to develop
new manufacturing techniques
07:16
to further increase output.
07:19
Building up skills and suppliers
are not the only hurdles
07:21
to local industrialization,
07:24
but they're good examples
of how we think about the challenge.
07:26
You see, we're not just
reimagining the car,
07:29
we're reimagining our entire value chain.
07:31
None of this has been easy,
07:35
and we're only just getting started.
07:36
But once African industry starts to scale,
07:38
the potential is huge.
07:40
Better products,
07:42
costing less,
07:44
built locally,
07:45
together creating millions of jobs.
07:47
Frugal innovation offers a path
to economic acceleration
07:49
across many industries,
07:52
and the future of this continent
depends on it.
07:54
The Africa 2.0 I believe in
can apply locally relevant design
07:57
and a commitment to solving
its industrial challenges
08:01
to create a more connected,
more prosperous future,
08:04
not just for the privileged few,
08:07
but for everyone.
08:09
Thank you.
08:10
(Applause)
08:12

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About the speaker:

Joel Jackson - Transport entrepreneur
TED Fellow Joel Jackson is the founder and CEO of Mobius Motors, set to launch a durable, low-cost SUV made in Africa.

Why you should listen

Joel Jackson was working on business strategy with farmers in rural Kenya when he faced a challenge shared by millions of people on the African continent: poor access to transport. Cars and trucks can be hard to afford in Africa, and road conditions require extra-tough vehicles, especially in rural areas.

Inspired, Jackson raised the funding to start Mobius Motors, a company that has already rolled out its first-generation vehicle. Their next-generation vehicle, Mobius II, is a simplified and ruggedized SUV set to retail for about 1,300,000 KES (Kenyan shillings), or about US$12,600 when it launches in 2018.

More profile about the speaker
Joel Jackson | Speaker | TED.com