A year or so ago, Uber launched CHAP CHAP services. The American taxi app purposed to sell the product as its cheapest to Kenyan customers who have widely embraced e-taxi services, particularly in Nairobi where users love the flexibility, freedom, and comfort that comes with online taxi solutions. CHAP CHAP also saw Uber sign an agreement with Suzuki Motor Corporation that aimed to expand the product to other Sub-Saharan African markets.
Specifically, Uber and Suzuki agreed to see themselves as partners to bolster local efficiencies, where drivers of the 800cc Suzuki Alto would get exceptional after-sales support, parts availability, and address warranty issues in a timely manner. Riders, on the other hand, paid a fair price for their trips.
Suzuki Alto: Specs
The car comes with a 800 cc engine that gives it an excellent 22 km per litre, which on paper is quite impressive. Even then, drivers expect occasional dips in the consumption chart when navigating Nairobi traffic jams. The car is equipped with a manual gearbox, which comes in handy especially during acceleration as opposed to the endless ‘gear fishing’ that is quite annoying in some automatic cars. It is not as spacious, with around 177 litres of boot space, but has a significant wiggle room on the back-passenger side. Additionally, the vehicle has airbags for the driver only and anti-lock braking system (ABS), with child safety lock and power windows for the front doors. Not too bad for an affordable car in Kenya’s largest city.
Is it a danger?
Kenya’s online community has been unforgiving to the car, and the taxi service after a picture of the car that had been involved in an accident was posted on Twitter. Many are questioning why the car is selling in Kenya even after it scored poorly in some necessary safety tests.
Suzuki Alto. pic.twitter.com/K6dJl9uDli
— *N.e.f.e.r.t.i.t.i* ⚛️™🥇 (@africanqueenmum) September 16, 2019
"In the 64km/h NCAP test, the Suzuki-Maruti Alto 800 achieved a zero-star rating for its adult occupant protection. The vehicle structure was rated as unstable, increasing the risk of life-threatening injuries & making the car unsuitable for the fitment of airbags." https://t.co/TZtNIW2iwY
— Sura Mbaya (@surambaya) September 17, 2019
The answers to the raised concerns are quite straightforward: Suzuki Alto is cheap to buy and maintain.
It is basically highly economical in terms of fuel consumption, therefore reducing the cost of transport and by extension, makes great financial sense when acquiring it in transport fleets such as Uber CHAP CHAP. Those who care about the environment (you should) also know that it reduces carbon footprint.
However, the Alto is exceedingly lightweight at about 400 kgs, making it quite unstable during high acceleration. Lightweight materials are used in the construction of the vehicle to save costs. This, in turn, makes the car very easy to injure/kill occupants in the event of a crash, hence the disturbing image seen in the linked tweet above.
Moreover, the vehicle’s body structure is not designed well enough to provide a guaranteed full functionality of airbags and/ seatbelts to ensure maximum safety of the passengers. Crumple zones, which are areas that are supposed to deform and absorb pressure during impact, are not well designed given the relatively small size of the car and also the limited production costs. These are some of the issues that make it score poorly in the tests highlighted in the Surambaya tweet.
Why is the car still here?
Due to its low cost, it makes for a cheap buy and favourable returns. Demonstrably, it has gained popularity in taxis services and can run errands without any outrageous movement of the fuel indicator needle. Lastly, the Alto is quite agile and can easily beat the conundrum passed on as traffic gridlocks with ease or without much strain.
But is it entirely Suzuki’s problem that their car is, in many ways, structurally flawed?
We would like to hear your thoughts.