Egypt’s first minicar

Com­ing to you from a Cairo vil­lage

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY AHMED HATEM

In Egypt, where many suf­fer un­der eco­nomic hard­ship, 35-year-old en­tre­pre­neur Ahmed Saeed el-Feki has been work­ing hard to make some­thing of him­self. He has launched his own busi­ness build­ing a minicar in a coun­try that re­lies heav­ily on im­ports of small au­to­mo­biles.

In a vil­lage not far from the Giza pyra­mids, el-Feki set up a small work­shop to cre­ate the first Egyp­tian-made minicar, the “minicar Egypt.”

“The idea came at the same time as the flota­tion of the Egyp­tian pound so we de­cided to think out­side the box and cre­ate a lo­cal prod­uct to re­place the Tuk Tuk,” el-Feki said, re­fer­ring to Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi’s move to help shore up the coun­try’s econ­omy.

El-Feki’s golf-cart look­ing minicar is dif­fer­ent in de­sign and me­chan­i­cal ef­fi­ciency from the Chi­nese Tuk Tuk, a three­wheeled mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cle used as a taxi, which is pop­u­lar in Egypt. The minicar’s en­gine power is 300cc, while the Tuk Tuk’s is 175cc. The body thick­ness is 4mm while the Tuk Tuk is only 0.75mm. The minicar is also much safer be­cause it is a 4-wheel car while the Tuk Tuk is only 3-wheeled. The minicar saves more fuel than the Tuk Tuk.

“The minicar is sim­i­lar to the Tuk Tuk but I feel it is more prac­ti­cal when I drive it in­side my vil­lage,” said 25-year-old Hos­sam Gamal el-Halawany, who has been the owner of a minicar for only a few days. “It can carry more pas­sen­gers, around five, in ad­di­tion to the driver.”

El-Halawany said, how­ever, he wor­ried the minicar will be regis­tered like the Tuk Tuks which means they are restricted in move­ment. “I am hop­ing to get a li­cense for the minicar to al­low to me move around the whole city and not only my vil­lage,” he says.

Mil­lions of Egyp­tians, es­pe­cially in ru­ral and densely pop­u­lated ar­eas, de­pend on auto rick­shaws be­cause of their cheap fares and small­ness that make it ideal to nav­i­gate nar­row al­leys. Egypt im­ports Tuk Tuks from China, spend­ing about $290 mil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to el-Feki.

To shore up Egypt’s econ­omy, Pres­i­dent el-Sissi im­posed aus­ter­ity mea­sures as part of a com­pre­hen­sive eco­nomic re­form pro­gram. The pro­gram was set to meet the de­mands of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund which se­cured a $12 bil­lion bailout to Egypt last year.

Speak­ing out­side his work­shop in the vil­lage of Kerdasa, el-Feki said he has dreamed of help­ing shore up the coun­try’s econ­omy since the day the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment took the un­prece­dented move of float­ing the pound.

El-Feki says the num­ber of pur­chas­ing orders has grown and they are com­ing not only from Egyp­tian busi­ness­men and com­pa­nies but African neigh­bour­ing coun­tries as well.

El-Feki said one in­ter­ested party in­vited him to man­u­fac­ture his ve­hi­cle in Mozam­bique, which he de­clined. For him, the startup had a na­tion­al­ist di­men­sion - he hopes to con­trib­ute to the Egyp­tian mar­ket, cre­ate jobs and in­crease the coun­try’s ex­port ca­pac­ity.

El-Feki said he is now work­ing hard on re­fin­ing and up­grad­ing his prod­uct from just a hand-made car. He was pro­duc­ing 30-40 per month on his own but he is now tak­ing his busi­ness to the next level af­ter reach­ing a deal with the gov­ern­ment to have the parts man­u­fac­tured in Army-run fac­to­ries. The parts come back to him and he then as­sem­bles the ve­hi­cles in a sep­a­rate fac­tory space, en­abling him to ramp up pro­duc­tion.

The minicar is cur­rently on sale for 34,000 Egyp­tian pounds ($1, 907), sig­nif­i­cantly less ex­pen­sive than the Tuk Tuk, which costs 38,000 Egyp­tian ($2,130 dol­lars).

AP PHOTO/NA­RI­MAN EL-MOFTY

In this Tues­day, Aug. 1 photo, Egyp­tian en­tre­pre­neur Ahmed Saeed el-Feki, who hopes to re­shape the coun­try’s au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try with his new minicar, takes the ve­hi­cle for a test drive in the vil­lage of Kerdasa, not far from the Giza Pyra­mids, greater Cairo, Egypt.

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