GOVERNMENT’S insatiable appetite for imported luxury vehicles has choked local manufacturers which are operating at a measly 5% capacity.
The Executive, Judiciary and Parliament — three arms of the State — prefer top of the range Mercedes Benz and Range Rover, from Germany and the United Kingdom, respectively, while the locally assembled Mazda is usually bought for middle-level management government officials.
The local car assemblers’ cry for salvation comes as the government projected a 7,4% gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate for 2021, anchored on improved agriculture output, manufacturing and mining sectors as enunciated in the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).
The economic blueprint says the motor industry, dominated by vehicle assemblers, is a key player.
There are three local assemblers, State-owned Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries (WMMI), Quest Motor Manufacturing and AVM Africa.
Cabinet recently approved a proposal by the Finance and Economic Development ministry to buy 500 buses from local assemblers to boost the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) fleet. This was after the car assemblers had complained.
The 500 buses represent 30% of the 1 700 buses earmarked for purchase by the government while the remaining 1 200 coaches would be imported from Belarus, China and South Africa.
The allocation to local assemblers falls short of the 60% lobbied by Deven Engineering — the bus-making subsidiary of WMMI.
“While we are making buses here at (Quest), not a single bus has been bought from us by Zupco,” lamented Quest general manager Tome Sarimana while airing grievances to Industry and Commerce minister Dr Sekai Nzenza during her tour of the facility in Mutare, on Friday.
Quest, AVM Africa and Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries have a combined capacity to assemble about 100 buses per month.
But Zupco has not bought buses from these assemblers for three decades.
“We have the capacity to assemble between 4 000 and 10 000 vehicles of varying makes per year. This is enough to meet demand,” Sarimana said.
“We are concerned because we don’t have the support to enable us to function at optimum capacity. This is not just for our benefit but downstream industries. There is a lack of support from the government. If you see the vehicles you (minister’s entourage) are driving, you will see that none was made by Quest or Willowvale.”
Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube has blamed Parliamentarians for turning down a proposal to acquire vehicles from local assemblers.
“It’s on record that I tried to get our Members of Parliament to source their vehicles from Quest and Willowvale (Mazda Motor Industries). I wasn’t successful,” Ncube told the media then.
There are 350 legislators in the National Assembly and Senate who are entitled to get US$35 000 each to purchase vehicles.
This translated to US$12,25 million — an amount that could significantly recapitalise local car assemblers.
Quest operations manager Carl Fernandez said there were pieces of legislation that compelled the government to procure service vehicles locally.
There is a 2002 Presidential Decree and Cabinet Circular No 16 of 2011 that provides for government institutions to acquire 80% of their vehicles within the country.
These instruments were successfully used during the inclusive government to force MPs to procure their vehicles from local assemblers.
Top government officials such as President Emmerson Mnangagwa then vice-president, Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya and Nzenza’s predecessors all toured assembly plants but they did not act to fulfill their promises.
Meanwhile, Quest has a capacity to support over 30 downstream industries that supply steel, paint, tyres, glass, exhaust, carpets and manufactured components. Most of the downstream industries have folded as a result of underperforming car assembly plants.
The company can employ 3 000 workers in three eight-hour shifts but currently employs less than 200 workers.
Its vehicle sales dropped from around 700 units of vehicles per month to below 10 units.