(Business in Cameroon) - On October 6, 2021, the public that was expecting a car fully designed and assembled in Cameroon, as promised by diasporan tech center Innotech Lab, left the center somewhat disappointed. Instead of a fully assembled car, the center presented a prototype called "DTA-001". The characteristics of this prototype, described by its chief designer and co-founder of Innotech Lab, Sama Mbang, were not enough to reassure a public that is now skeptical towards such projects because several of the announcements never materialized in Cameroon.
"A prototype is stage 0 of the design cycle. The aim is to test the product, check its functionality, ergonomics, and customer satisfaction before launching the production line. So the final appearance could be different,” an expert explains. According to the latter, to move from the prototype stage to mass production, it is necessary to ensure that the production cost and the quality-price ratio are competitive to make the project profitable in a sector as competitive as the automotive industry.
Innotech Lab did not speak about those issues. "The price of a prototype is hard to quantify because it's a first time. We can fail and start again and again (...) It is only after the whole investment that we can determine how much the general public can disburse to buy the car,” says Sama Mbang.
A call to investors
The technology center is optimistic about the whole project. "The car is ready. We are about to finalize the model of the production line, namely, which robot or which machine will be needed to produce various parts. If we are asked today to produce 100 cars, I believe that within one year, we would have set our first factory and launched the production of the first cars because it is mainly a local production," Sama Mbang adds.
His words hint that the future of the project will not depend on the technology center. On October 6, 2021, during the presentation of the prototype, we learned that the presentation was intended to attracted investors. "The presentation of this vehicle, designed and assembled here in Cameroon, will motivate the development of automotive industries and attract support,” Sama Mbang comments.
On the prototype, the logos of four institutions and companies are visible. They are Afriland First Bank of Cameroonian billionaire Paul Kammogne Fokam, the mechanical and metal manufacturer Sarmetal of Constance Owona ( wife of the Minister of Labor and Social Security), French software publisher Dassault Systems - a subsidiary of Dassault Group, and the Cameroonian Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development.
This means that they all contributed to the manufacturing of the prototype but there is no telling the extent of their involvement.
During the presentation ceremony, the Minister of Economy Louis-Paul Motazé praised the initiative. “This initiative needs to be supported by public authorities and economic operators to reduce the volume of imports,” he said. In 2020, Cameroon imported 34,484 passenger cars spending XAF63 billion, according to the national institute for Statistics INS.