Can a simple jeep be a vehicle for change? Maybe so. Just ask Joel Jackson, founder of Mobius Motors.
If you’re among the poorest of the poor living in rural Africa, how do you get to your job, much less find one? How do you send your children to school, go to the market or get to a medical clinic?
The cost of a car is out of reach for most Africans. Public transportation is notoriously unreliable, so millions of the rural poor end up walking ten or more miles each day simply to get supplies as basic as clean drinking water. How do you break the cycle of poverty and isolation when you literally can’t get from here to there?
Those were all issues Jackson grappled with while working with rural farming communities across Kenya for a successful tree farming social enterprise called KOMAZA. Jackson figured there was something he could do to give rural Kenyans the lifeline they so desperately needed, so last year he started his own social venture — Mobius Motors — to design, manufacture, and sell affordable and efficient vehicles in, and for, Africa.
Jackson, a 2011 Echoing Green Fellowship Finalist, explains his “moment of obligation” this way:
Visiting program sites I often traveled for hours on inadequate public transport or by foot in the blistering sun without any alternative. I was not alone — each day I saw countless people walking miles to carry water, farm produce, building materials, or a sick child in need of medical care.
However, amidst acute market failure I also saw vast opportunity. Africa’s nascent transport market is $60 billion annually, despite reliance on supply of misaligned vehicle imports. I realized the game-changing opportunity to create a better vehicle to mobilize the developing world.
One could almost say Jackson is reinventing the wheel. He and his team have already designed two prototypes and they hope to roll the first jeep into production in January 2012. Jackson’s two partners and advisors know the terrain well: KOMAZA’s founder Tevis Howard, who wrote a recent guest post for Care2, and Andrew Youn, founder of One Acre Fund, and a 2006 Echoing Green fellow.
What makes the Mobius a true vehicle for change is that it’s “designed explicitly for the needs of the African consumer,” Jackson explains on his website.
The key to the jeep is a cost-effective and safe tubular steel frame built to withstand the rigors of rural Africa’s degraded roads. The design team has also done away with non-essential and expensive technologies such as air conditioning, and even glass windows, focusing instead on local needs, namely good storage, and heavy duty suspension.
By keeping production costs low, Mobius plans to price its vehicles to be competitive with the 3-wheel motorized rickshaws that zip around Kenya’s urban areas but have no ability to negotiate bumpy dirt roads or cover long distances.
Another game-changer is the venture’s model for marketing the jeep. Instead of selling vehicles directly to the extreme rural poor — who have little if any cash flow — Jackson aims to empower entrepreneurs across Africa, help them with financing and offer business advice so that they in turn can operate the jeeps and provide desperately needed services including mobile medical care, school buses and mail delivery.
“It’s a well tested method employed to deliver services within a sustainable market based structure,” Jackson explains. “Our vision is a transport platform that empowers local entrepreneurs to mobilize the developing world.”
Take a look at the Mobius One prototype in action:
Photo courtesy of Mobius Motors