Economy, Press Review
08. July 2009
Vuka Scuta races into Africa
Not content with revolutionising the way South Africans commute, locally developed Vuka Scuta is now branching out into other Southern African countries. The company has started marketing its motor scooters in Mozambique.
Launched in 2006, the nippy Vuka (isiZulu, meaning "wake up" or "get moving") two-wheelers have become increasingly popular, especially in light of the unpredictable cost of fuel, high interest rates, and often unbearable congestion of South Africa's urban roads.
The stylish scooters are manufactured in China but assembled in South Africa and have been developed for South African conditions, with features such as increased legroom when compared with Chinese scooters. Vuka evaluated 14 Chinese scooter models before deciding on the right models for the South African climate.
Scooters arrive in a semi-disassembled state in crates from China, and after months of perfecting the process, assembly staff can put a vehicle together in less than an hour. All vehicles are tested before moving on to the retailer, and the mostly manual assembly and testing processes have enabled Vuka to create a number of new jobs.
The first outlet to sell Vuka scooters beyond South African borders opened in Maputo in June 2009.
Vuka seeks to follow the example set by a number of South African retailers and manufacturers, who have moved out across the continent. Mobile provider MTN, brewing giant SABMiller, fast food chains Nando's and Steers, and retailers Woolworths and Shoprite Checkers, among others, have all set up shop in other African countries.
Vuka MD Thinus Lamprecht said in a statement that the company foresees a large and potentially lucrative market in the African continent, since it offers a viable transport solution to people looking for ways to ease the effects of the current global economic downturn.
"We felt that it is essential to develop and establish potential new markets to enable Vuka to continue its growth and to broaden our brand footprint," said Lamprecht. "Although each African country presents its own challenges and requirements, we feel confident that we have the necessary experience and products to tackle these markets successfully."
Mozambique is the ideal market in which to launch an African operation, he added, because fuel in that country is expensive, roads are becoming increasingly congested as the economy gathers momentum, and many people in rural areas travel long distances to get to work in the cities.
Initially the cost-effective vehicles will be sold to government departments, NGOs and the agricultural industry. A second Vuka outlet is due to open before the end of July in Inhambane, located 470km northeast of Maputo in southern Mozambique.
The expansion plan, said Lamprecht, should see the company's staff complement grow from some 160 currently to between 500 and 600 by 2011.
Taking over the continent
Vuka has plans to begin operations in the east African country of Kenya, as well as Angola and other West African countries. In the Southern African region, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe may soon see the colourful scooters zipping around their streets, as the company is following up a number of enquiries.
As in the case of South Africa, scooter models will be adapted for the specific market, fuel and road conditions found in other African countries. The company will also follow the trend it has set in its South African operation by establishing assembly plants in various other regions.
Changing the lives of commuters
Cape Town-based Vuka Scuta captured a 20% market share in its first two years of business. Vuka states that its goal is to "revolutionise personal mobility" and change the lives of hard-pressed South African commuters by selling top quality scooters at the lowest possible prices.
The company is wholly owned by the Luna Group, a 23-year-old diversified business founded by entrepreneur Barney Esterhuyzen and his family trust; as well as Titan Nominees, part of the Titan group run by retail masterminds Christo Wiese and Renier van Rooyen. A small stake is held by Vuka's Hong Kong agent.
Scooters are sold all around South Africa through a network of 32 outlets and dedicated dealers. In mid-2008 the company claimed to be selling one scooter every 26 seconds during normal business hours. All retail outlets are backed up by trained and accredited service centres that carry a wide range of spare parts and can competently attend to any problem.
Vuka's cheapest model is the economical and fuel-efficient EL90, which sells for US$696 (R5 499). The flagship ML150 sells for $1 643 (R12 999). There are four more scooters and four motorcycle models in the range.
Vuka scooters have been developed and tested to ensure a comfortable ride and excellent stability. Quality checks at licensed manufacturing plants overseas are followed by equally stringent tests at the local assembly facilities. Each vehicle offers storage areas and quirky but useful features such as a red light that blinks to alert the driver of an incoming mobile call.
* Do you have queries or comments about this article? Contact Janine Erasmus at janinee(at)mediaclubsouthafrica.com.
Image: The stylish Vuka XT150, a nippy performer with a powerful engine that is ideal for freeway cruising. (Image: Vuka Scuta)
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