Little-known History of Kenyan Built Cars

Nyayo Pioneer 1
The Nyayo Pioneer I at Kasarani stadium in 1991.

Kenya has a brief car manufacturing heritage which has only recently began to bear fruit. 

The country’s first manufactured car was the Nyayo Pioneer One in 1986. The project to build it was spearheaded by the late former President Moi. In 1991, he launched the vehicle at Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium. It was majestic and the first of its kind not only in Kenya but the entire African continent. 

The saloon car had an engine capacity of 1200 cc and achieved a top speed of 120 km/h. There were 4 variants of the car namely a 5 door sedan, a pickup, a rally version and a sports coupe. Besides the carburettor, every part of the car was locally built.

A Nyayo Pioneer Car
TheNyayo Pioneer Car being launched at Kasarani Stadium in 1991.

Indeed, the project lit smiles and promised to transform the nation into a major automotive producer for the region, bringing pride to the people. However, it failed a number of times in the immediate future but its engineers refused to give in. Things, however, would only get worse.

As the Department of Engineering toiled to put out more units, the late Nicholas Biwott got involved. He is said to have demanded that a pick-up version of his own liking be included in the production, citing it would be more economical for Kenyans. He rushed the engineers to submit an example of such.

The late President Daniel Moi (left) and former Energy Minister Nicholas Biwott (right)

However, Biwott got angry during the unveiling of the prototypes because the pick up did not come up first in the launching. Consequently, he banished the program altogether.

It was at this point that the ‘Kenyan car’ dream came to an abrupt end. It would take over 20 years until Kenya would once again manufacture and sell motor vehicles. Meanwhile, foreign car companies continued to assemble and sell vehicles including Toyota East Africa, General Motors among others. Simba Colt sold Mitsubishi and Renault models. 

Two decades later, the country’s automotive industry was reignited by Mobius. Mobius Motors Kenya Ltd is a Kenyan company founded in 2010 and registered in 2011 by Joel Jackson.

The firm's premise was to build simplified vehicles that would compete with second-hand car imports. In 2018, the company revealed a model, the Mobius 2.

The Mobius 2
A Mobius 2 in Kenya during its launch in 2018.

Its price starts at Ksh1.3 million for a 2-seat cargo carrier version. There’s also a 5-seater variant named ‘Adventure’. It goes for Ksh1.45 million. Sold only in manual transmission, this all-terrain SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) comes with a superior 1800 cc engine and a palette of 3 colours.

A new model, the Mobius 3, was launched on Thursday, June 10 2021. The vehicle would be sold at Ksh 3.9 million.

Mobius 3
Photo of the Kenyan-built Mobius 3 in Kenya at a past date.

In addition to Mobius, Volkswagen Polo Vivo was introduced in 2018. Though it is mainly the result of franchising, it was launched by President Uhuru. It is a five-door hatchback locally manufactured to increase dependence on locally made goods and to cut import costs. The model has since been assembled at an industrial plant in Thika, Kiambu County. It goes for Ksh1.65 million.

A Volkswagen Polo Vivo
A locally-assembled Volkswagen Polo Vivo at a DT Dobie showroom in Nairobi at a past date.