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On The Road To A Homegrown Auto Brand

By Rosalind McLymont

Will the Suame Magazine Industrial Developmennt Organization (SMIDO) morph into Africa’s version of Tesla Motors Inc., the California upstart that designs, manufactures and sells electric cars?

Is the organization’s SMATI Turtle 1 the first of Africa’s homegrown auto brands?

The SMATI Turtle I looks like an all-terrain vehicle I wish existed when I lived in Uganda 30 years ago and had to travel 200 miles from Kampala via the dusty, crater-infested, red Mubende road to get to Fort Portal out west, where I taught. A car designed for the African market, it was born of the technological ingenuity that runs rampant in industrial Suame Magazine.

Suame Magazine is a giant hive of metal engineering and vehicle repair workshops in Kumasi, Ghana, where some 200,000 souls toil daily. It is one of the largest industrial zones in West Africa.

Earlier this year, with support from the Dutch-based foundation, Aardschap, SMIDO artisans built a fully functioning concept model of SMATI Turtle and shipped it to Rotterdam, Holland, where it was exhibited to potential investors for commercial production. 

In another milestone, Dutch inspectors successfully tested SMATI Turtle I this month for roadworthiness and recommended improvements to specific areas of the design and engineering before it goes through the next stage of testing.      

“SMATI” stands for Suame Magazine Automatics Technical Institute, the training center that produces artisans for the industrial zone. “Turtle,” like the hardy reptile that can live in water or on land, symbolizes strength, endurance, and the ability to conquer any terrain.

The next major coming-out party for SMATI Turtle I will be at IMPAKT Festival 2013 in Utrecht, Netherlands, complete with a photo exhibition and test drives for the public.


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