Upon arriving in Kenya in 2009, computer engineer Joel Jackson noticed the grim condition of the country’s roads. Jackson had travelled to Africa with a non-profit organization in hopes of aiding local farmers raise their productivity, but his focus shifted to another purpose when he realized the dearth in transportation: He designed an affordable car, the Mobius, built by local welders and mechanics, and hoped to make the cars available for just $6,000.
“It became clear that the lack of appropriate transport affected many parts of rural Africa,” he told BBC.
Jackson decided to develop a practical solution to the issues of transportation in the region. The original model, the Mobius One, was built from scratch, and took almost a year to put together.
“It had a tubular steel frame and off-the-shelf parts. It looked like a dune buggy, took 10 months to build and cost $14,000 (£9,000),” Jackson said.
That model was enough to garner the attention of venture capitalists, who gave Jackson $500,000 towards further development of the Mobius. With the money Jackson was able to create his own company, Mobius Motors, and hire fellow engineers to assist with the creation of the Mobius Two. This time, the prototype took just three months to build, with a cost of $15,000.
“We eliminated all non-essential features. The important thing was to make sure it was rugged and durable because African roads are highly degraded,” he said. “We drove it around Kenya and it performed well. When we drove it through Nairobi people routinely came up and asked where they could get one,” he said.
Jackson and Mobius are still targeting the car specifically for African markets, where even a four-year-old used car can sell for $8,000. Jackson hopes that the Mobius models will sell for as low as $6,000. Due to high shipping and custom costs in Kenya, off-road vehicles can cost upwards of $60,000. Mobius is expected to manufacture just around 50 of their model before the end of the year, but already have 15 pre-orders, with over 100 waiting down the line.
“Mobius has the chance to change the transport network in Africa. Access to transportation means access to education and health services and that is the social impact of the project,” Jackson said. “My ambition is for this to be the car for Africa and I’d like to see hundreds of thousands of them produced each year.”