The BAW Sasuka minibus taxi is currently being assembled in Springs, but from 2018 will be fully manufactured.  Picture: MARK SMYTH
The BAW Sasuka minibus taxi is currently being assembled in Springs, but from 2018 will be fully manufactured. Picture: MARK SMYTH

Springs in Gauteng is famous for its Kelloggs and PG Glass factories as well as the mining industry, but it is not well known as an automotive town.

So it might surprise you to know that it is the site of one of the biggest Chinese car makers, BAW. Owned by the mighty Beijing Automotive International Company (BAIC), BAW has been assembling its Toyota Quantum minibus taxi copy, the 16-seater Sasuka, for a few years now.

Commitment

This week it announced that under its commitment to shareholders, which includes the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and to meet the requirements of the Automotive Production Development Programme (APDP), it is expanding its facility from semi-knockdown to complete knockdown.

Following the initial investment of R196m in 2012, the factory is now set to benefit from a further investment to the tune of R250m, R80m of which will come from the IDC. Much of the rest of the investment will take the form of capital investment through equipment which will be sourced from China.

Chinese companies have already invested more than $14bn in SA through 150 medium to large enterprises, according to Liang Zhaoshan of the Chinese Consulate. He says this has created more than 20,000 jobs.

More jobs

More jobs will be created at the BAW site in Springs when it expands from its current 25,000m2 to 37,840m2. The site is set to incorporate an assembly area with a paint shop, body shop, trim line, parts and accessories warehouse and administration facilities.

BAW SA is using South African companies for the project, including consultants, engineers and building contractors, but it aims to further its use of local industry by increasing the local content in its Sasuka.

Geoffrey Qhena, CEO of the IDC, says that BAW has proven to be a credible partner but, he said, "we need to move to complete knockdown". The aim of this is to increase localisation through the use of local parts suppliers and others to meet this critical area of the APDP.

Support of the IDC and other government agencies has been vital according to BAW SA. Its CEO, Zhang Wei, says: "I sincerely hope the relevant government departments will continue to help."

Assistance has also come through financial institutions, which have been working behind the scenes on customised finance deals for taxi owners buying the Sasuka.

The taxi associations have also been involved and no doubt have been rather interested in the fact that BAW offers an unprecedented 500,000km service plan on its minibus taxi.

However, the company has plans beyond its existing vehicle. The new plant will have the capacity to produce 500 vehicles a month using a single-shift system, but could double this with a second shift.

To cater for this, it is planning to launch a diesel-engined taxi next month. It remains to be seen how well this will be received because to date the taxi operators have rejected any attempts to introduce diesel models because they are seen as having slower acceleration and more servicing downtime.

Beyond the taxi, BAW is looking at manufacturing a panel van using the Quantum design and is even considering electric vehicles, probably for the urban delivery industry.

Once the expansion of the manufacturing plant is complete the first models are expected to come off the production line around this time in 2018.

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