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Cars should be modular

Last week I attended a conference at the UN dubbed the Africa Clean Mobility Week, although technically it wasn’t a week as it was a four-day affair. Nevertheless, I walked into the impressive conference room packed to the rafters with people who like me thought they had the answers to mobility.

But none of us did, I knew this because whenever the moderator announced that we were to break, there was a stampede of suits for the door. Every single time.

They were all here for the snacks it seemed. I was here to find anything fresh and find I did. After the usual break on the last day, a gentleman from the ministry of works and transport in Uganda with a name I can’t remember stood up to speak. I knew he was different because not only was he loud but when we broke for snacks, he was in no particular rush. He was clearly a man on a mission.

He had been a used vehicle inspector for 16 years and he took issue with the idea of banning used car sales, or the imposing of age restrictions in the East African Community. His argument was simple. Emission technologies are just as interchangeable as the rest of the car.

So why can’t we do that to older cars and have lowered emissions. This would mean that the pipes of even a fifty-year-old car would spew only flowers into the atmosphere. This idea struck me as genius! Although to be honest all he was talking about was an industry-driven aftermarket parts system.

Since Kenya has an eight-year rule for older cars the man argued, it automatically follows that the air in Nairobi would be cleaner than that in Kampala which has no age limits.

This just isn’t the case. Of course they have more trees and fewer cars but that notwithstanding their air is much cleaner. Since we could replace any part of a vehicle, he pressed, if a car manufacturer were really serious about tackling emissions immediately, they would focus on getting newer spares to older cars at affordable rates.

No need to keep making more and more cars as we are all in agreement that we can’t keep building more and more roads. But we can make use of already existing cars and as the Aftermarket calls it, soup them up!

Get any old banger, replace the heavy steel bodywork with carbon-fibre, replace the 90s petrol engines in the bay with something from today’s turbocharged low emissions era. Do that with the exhaust system, the gearbox, the brakes and literally the entire car and in the end you will have a new car.

This to the car manufacturers is unthinkable as they would much rather sell you a complete new car than a single part at an affordable price. This obviously brilliant idea by the gentleman from the land of bananas and developed by myself would have the business model shift from car companies making whole cars to car companies consisting only of R&D and manufacturing of new parts for already existing cars.

Since they made the original car in the first place, then they can improve on it to infinity. Instead of car dealerships displaying the newest shiny cars, they’d be a parts store, and a service centre out back where the new upgrades are fitted by company trained technicians with the right tools.

Literally what they already do. You’d drive into Toyota Kenya with a well-worn Land Cruiser 100 and in no time drive out with the same car with the latest V8, suspension, brakes and an emptier wallet. But you’d be happy and the turnover would be higher as petrolheads spend lavishly on their cars.

The rush towards electrification can be accelerated too if the car companies retrofitted their new electric technology into much older cars. I have seen someone on YouTube do that to a Subaru WRX in their garage so I’m willing to bet that if Fuji Heavy Industries wanted to, they very easily could.

That there of course is a perfect solution to environmental challenges and we get to continually spend money on our cars, keeping the capitalists happy. At the same time making cars more powerful, more efficient and as environmentally destructive as butterflies. Keeping the rest of the world happy.

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