A locally manufactured vehicle, which will be a global first to be made from a cheaper and lighter hybrid of stainless steel, could be cruising on South African roads soon if things go according to plan.
The Runza car will come with many benefits: cost-effectiveness, durability, crashworthiness and recyclability.
Above all, it will be made from the abundant chrome-ore – of which about 70% of the world’s reserves are found in South Africa.
The spinoff of manufacturing this car here is that the country will increase beneficiation of its raw minerals.
Most car bodies are made from aluminium because it is lighter and therefore reduces fuel consumption.
Their frames and pillars are made from cast aluminium.
Now, lighter weight materials based on stainless steel, have been developed by engineers working on the Next Generation Vehicles (NGV) initiative.
The Runza’s body will be made from the hybrid stainless steel material which is stronger and lighter than aluminium and was tested by the NGV initiative for its crashworthiness.
Roland Gustafsson, chairperson of the global NGV initiative and former head of the Volvo Concept Centre in Sweden, said South Africa had the potential to manufacture the vehicle, because it has chrome and nickel, another metal that would be used.
Gustafsson bought into the Runza idea in 2003 when he worked on the NGV initiative with South African engineer, Mulalo Doyoyo, then a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
Global brands Volvo, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Saab Automobile and Fiat are all part of the NGV initiative.
The stainless steel car was Doyoyo’s idea.
He believes it will buck the trend of exporting our raw minerals, ensuring that local beneficiation takes place.
It will also give South Africans stronger vehicles suitable for poor and undeveloped roads.
“Typical of us and other countries on the continent, we always give away our minerals and when they come back to us as finished products we pay at least 10 times more and that does not benefit our economy,” Doyoyo said.
“One distinguishing thing about the Runza design is that it’s based on the public transport system in Africa. Its flagship vehicle is a taxi. It is designed to withstand poor road infrastructure in South Africa and other poor nations,” he said.
Gustafsson is optimistic about the car’s prospects of success in the country.
“This car was optimised for South Africa. It will not need painting which makes up a third of a car’s cost. A stainless steel car would not work in Europe because there are so many car paint shops. But in South Africa all the painting could be avoided. An individual could decide to paint his or her car at their own cost,” Gustafsson said.
“It’s a pity that the country is not manufacturing this car already since it was conceptualised a few years ago because it has all the materials. When I met Mulalo [Doyoyo], he was a bit concerned that South Africa did not make use of its raw materials,” he said.
What is not clear at the moment is when the Runza will roll off the production line because Doyoyo and the NGV partners are still finalising the funding structure.
Gustafsson said that the car could be assembled manually in the east, central and coastal areas of the country to deal with the unemployment rate in different parts of South Africa.
The NGV team’s and Doyoyo’s feasibility study envisioned that 50 000 cars would be manufactured in a year.
“Hybrid stainless steel material is somehow more expensive than aluminium, but it cuts a third of the cost because there’s no need for painting. This car would compete in the market with regular cars … it lasts forever because it does not rust and does not need service on the body,” said Gustafsson.
Doyoyo said that if the Runza had half the country’s market share of car manufacturing – which produces 500 000 cars and employs 300 000 people – it would create 150 000 jobs, excluding those arising from the processing of stainless steel components.
The NGV expended 20 000 hours and put in an investment of €5 million (R90 million) over five years. A final report – Stainless Steel Engineering Guidelines – was published in 2007.
“These guidelines provide a roadmap for the construction of the Runza car of which South Africa will be a major beneficiary,” said Doyoyo.
SAFER, RECYCLABLE CAR
Stainless steel, said Gustafsson, has wonderful properties and performs better during crashes.
“One of the properties is cold-hardening. When a stainless steel car crashes it becomes extremely strong because of its crashworthiness properties. The heavier the crash, the stronger it becomes,” he said.
Doyoyo added that the Runza’s stainless steel components would be reinforced by novel materials recycled from industrial and mining waste all over the world, which were also readily available in South Africa.
“We can teach the entire world a thing or two about how to become environmentally conscious industrialists,” Doyoyo said.
“Wouldn’t it also be nice if our ambulances and taxis are the Runza models manufactured in the country?”
Gustafsson said that another advantage of the Runza was that it would be recyclable.
“Stainless steel material is 100% recyclable. You can bring the old car back, melt it and make another car. You can’t recycle aluminium for car production.”
SA CAN EMULATE CHINA’S VEHICLE BOOM
Gustafsson said that China’s local automotive industry has boomed in the last 10 years.
“China is the biggest market in terms of [vehicle] manufacturing and sales. With the Runza, South Africa can do the same and even better,” he added.
The Chinese automotive industry’s annual production has, since 2009, surpassed that of the EU, the US and Japan combined.
In 2009, China produced 13.79 million vehicles, of which 8 million were passenger cars and 3.41 million were commercial vehicles.
In 2014, total vehicle production in China reached 23.720 million – 26% of global production. Projections are that by 2030, the Chinese market will grow tenfold.