BY KENNETH MATIMAIRE
AMALGAMATED Bus Industries (ABI) — a consortium of 90% of the country’s bus operators — have established a special purpose vehicle to resuscitate ailing bus assembling plants through a US$35 million facility.
The special purpose vehicle was established last year and came into effect in June this year following a partnership between bus operators through ABI and local bus assemblers.
There are three bus assembling plants — Quest Motors Corporation (QMC), AVM Africa and state-owned Deven Engineering — a subsidiary of Willowvale Mazda Motors Industries (WMMI).
The Zimbabwe Independent established that the deal sealed between ABI and two of the three assemblers — Quest and AVM Africa — will see the latter stand to benefit up to US$3,6 million per annum.
It was further gathered that the bus operators in 2011 clinched a US$35 million loan facility from their international associates in China, which have been used by operators over the past decade to import fully built buses.
However, ABI finance director Kura Sibanda who sealed the deal together with the association’s chairperson Samson Nanhanga said they reviewed the facility to import bus kits which would then be assembled locally.
Sibanda said they will begin with the assembly of 300 buses per annum through the two plants against an annual demand of 500 buses.
He further indicated that ABI will be paying the two assemblers a total of US$12 000 per each bus assembled.
“So we decided to start with Quest Motors and AVM. As assemblers we have been buying fully built buses but through ABI we will be importing kits. They go to Quest and they charge us a fee to assemble.
“We pegged US$12,000 as the cost of assembling. So our intention is to at least start with 300 buses per annum,” said Sibanda adding that the buses would be sold to any interested party.
Technically, assemblers stand to rake in up to US$3,6 million per annum through the lucrative deal.
The development comes at a time the country’s public transporter Zupco — which had a fleet of 4 000 buses in 1992 —has not acquired buses from the three assemblers for decades.
This has been worsened by government’s policy to import 1 700 fully built buses from Belarus, South Africa and China to boost Zupco’s dilapidated fleet.
Critics argued that assemblers should have been at the centre of Zupco’s resuscitation exercise as this would have further revived downstream industries and created massive employment opportunities for locals.
Though assemblers lobbied government to set aside at least 60% of the total required buses to them, Cabinet only set aside 500 buses (30%) early this year but nothing has materialised.
It is against this backdrop that assemblers were upbeat about the new partnership with private bus operators.
“We are happy because at least we will have a bit of activity within our plant, said Quest Motors director Tarik Adam.
AVM Africa managing director Jacob Kufa said the company was waiting for the first batch of kits.
“We haven’t started yet. We are still waiting for the kits to arrive,” said Kufa.
Initially, the production was expected to have started last month, but has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
“We were supposed to have started in July but we were unable to dispatch our teams to China (Liaocheng Shandong Province) because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. But we will get things moving as soon as the restrictions are eased,” said Sibanda adding that the pandemic affected the ease of doing business.
It was gathered that it now takes up 120 days for a bus or kits to arrive in Beira, Mozambique from the initial 45 days following the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.