Africa’s Automobile Giant: Though statistical growth of the country’s vehicle population reflects the huge potential of the subsector, its present state leaves much to be desired as this Africa’s most populous nation continues to import over 500,000 vehicles yearly.
Nigeria’s automobile industry is a goldmine. The country boasts of a vehicle population of over 11,800,000. 57.50% of its vehicle population belong to the commercial category while 41.17% make up the private car owners. Government owns 1.28%, while diplomats cover 0.05% of the total vehicle population.
However, there is one man striving hard to change the narrative.
The man called Innocent Chukwuma Africa’s Automobile Giant
Dr. Innocent Chukwuma is the Founder/Chairman of IVM Innoson Group with subsidiaries such as Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited, Africa’s first indigenous vehicle manufacturing company; Innoson Nigeria Ltd, General Tyres and Tubes and Innoson Technical and Industrial Company Ltd.
L-R: Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Chairman Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) during a visit to IVM factory in Nnewi, Anambra State
He is a business magnate who braved all the obstacles to establish a company that manufactures durable and affordable brand new automobiles for Africans. His company based in Nnewi, a town in Anambra State, south-eastern Nigeria, produces cars, pickup, SUVs, vans, and buses.
A travel back in time
Chukuwma was born in Nnewi, Anambra State, in 1961. At 17, after his secondary school education, he started working at his elder brother, Gabriel’s store. His brother sold pharmaceutical products. While he worked for his brother, he soon discovered that he had a talent for trading.
In 1978, encouraged by Gabriel, Chukwuma went on to become an apprentice to Chief Romanus Eze Onwuka, the biggest dealer in motorcycle spare parts at the Nnewi Market.
Onwuka was also the founder of the first private sports stadium in Nigeria.
A year later, Chukwuma returned to his brother, Gabriel who helped him register a business called Gabros International. The outfit dealt in the sale of motorcycle spare parts. Chukwuma’s start-up capital was N3,000.
By the end of 1980, Gabros International was making ten times more than his brother’s medicine store.
Gabriel had to shut down the store to join his brother in the spare parts business. The duo however parted ways a year later.
The journey from spare part sales to automobile manufacturing
Chukwuma upon learning that many people were importing used motorcycles into Nigeria and making money, decided to take a trip abroad to see how it was all done.
He realised there were four companies bringing in the motorcycles at the time. These companies were Leventis, Yamaco, Boulous, and CFAO.
He noticed that when they imported the motorcycles, they would bring them in crates, and each crate could only contain one motorcycle, which would take up a lot of space. This meant only 40 crates could be put into a 40-foot container, and upon arrival, the motorcycles would become naturally expensive to buyers.
This insight gave him a great idea. He would purchase the motorcycles overseas, and disassemble them before he shipped them. This enabled him ship 200 motorcycles in parts, in one 40-foot container.
When he returned to Nigeria, he would reassemble them. He would then sell his motorcycles for 40% less than his competitors’ prices. This tactic brought down the average cost of buying a motorcycle from 150,000 Naira to 60,000 Naira This of course boosted his sales and revenues.
Innoson entrepreneur Africa’s Automobile Giant
Chairman of IVM, Dr. Innocent Chukwuma and the Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano
He further realised that motorcycles usually contained much plastic. This eventually prompted him to set up a plastic factory in Nigeria, which is now one of the largest in Africa.
However, in 2002, Chukwuma started facing challenges.
“Everybody, including the Indians in Nigeria, seemed to be involved in the motorcycle business. Worst of all, state governments started banning commercial motorcycles as a means of urban transit due to the involvement of okada riders in heinous crimes and high fatalities. The future of the business became bleak”, he said in an interview with a local newspaper.
Unrelenting in his entrepreneurial adventure, he decided to go into motor manufacturing. He spent years learning the process, touring Asian countries to acquire the skills, knowledge and network with car manufacturers before setting up his company Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited (IVM) in Nnewi.
In 2014, this maverick industrialist, unveiled his company’s new cars; IVM Umu, IVM Umu and IVM Uzo.
Today, IVM Innoson Group provides income to over 10,000 indirect workers and over 7,300 direct employees in Nigeria. Not only is Chukwuma an employer of labour, he is also a source of inspiration to many budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
Chukwuma believes in three core principles; Honesty, Innovation and Courage. He is known for his ” can do” attitude’ and price slash strategy, that is reducing costs to increase sales.
Innoson Group and its embattled Chairman, Chukwuma have been accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes to have forged documents to facilitate the clearing of some goods at the port. The Innoson Group boss was specifically accused of forging documents purportedly emanating from GTBank. The automobile genius has insisted that he is not guilty as charged.
The matter which is still in court, has not however had any significant dent on the image of Chukwuma and his business.
After all, in law, every accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
2013- Deputy Chairman, Board of Trustees, National Coalition for Jonathan/Sambo Presidency
2013- Honorary Life Vice President of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines & Agriculture (NACCIMA)
2012- Ambassador for Peace by St. Andrews Anglican Church, Trans Ekulu, Enugu
2012- Entrepreneur of the Year by Wesley University of Science and Technology, Akure, Ondo State
2012- Most Outstanding Indigenous Entrepreneur in the Manufacturing Sector by Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA)
2011- National Honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) by Former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan
Africa’s Automobile Giant