BAW Set to Stir Mini Bus Market with Pilot


By Bennett Oghifo

Having penetrated the taxi (mini bus) industry in South Africa and earned an enviable share of the market since 2013 when volume production commenced, BAW mini bus is set to reproduce its success streak in the Nigerian market.

Driven by its popular name in South Africa where mini buses dominate the taxi business, Sasuka (which means “we are departing” in Zulu) has seduced thousands of loyal Toyota Hiace customers in so short a time. But in Nigeria, it has assumed another very suggestive name – Pilot!

And, with a few ‘fore-runner’ units testing the market ahead of a formal roll-out from a plant in Enugu, BAW Pilot is already giving an indication that the feat in South Africa was no fluke. On the inter-city routes which some early units of the bus have been plying, they have been causing a stir as the competing brands see on their side mirrors a daring new entrant rearing to catch up and possibly overtake.

BAW Pilot is counting down to a formal launch following detailed adaptations (to suit the Nigerian motoring environment) by Transit Support Services (TSS), a sister company to ABC Transport Plc, which in collaboration with Beijin Automobile Works (BAW) of South Africa, has commenced the assembly of the 16/15-seater bus in Nigeria.

With considerable efforts made to keep costs economical without compromising on quality or reliability, and helped by the incentives of the automotive policy, BAW Pilot may well be the relief transporters have been yearning for.

This is because it is coming with the answers to two major headaches of today’s transporters in Nigeria, namely, the high price tags of imported buses and the ever rising costs of operating commercial vehicles due to the condition of the roads and, in some cases, inadequate after-sales support.

At about N15 million, the price of BAW Pilot is nearly 50 percent of the price of a Toyota Hiace currently going for N27. 5million, while an optional 200,000 kilometre free service plan will be unveiled along with the new bus by TSS.

The plan covers basic service, lubrication and brake, at 10,000km intervals through appointed service partners across the country.

In line with the goal of reducing operating costs, BAW Pilot is built on reinforced suspension with a ‘five pack’ bundle spring designed to withstand the effect of bad roads. Some of the other benefits of the extensive adaptation for Africa, and Nigeria in particular, will be felt by the bus users in various areas, including the seat configuration which makes for comfort and stability – thanks to the extended body length (100mm).

The efficient cooling system; a powerful 2.7 litre, low-emission Euro II petrol engine {with impressive torque} mated to a new-tech, five-speed gear; and extra bright headlamps, are likely to delight users in Nigeria.

One of Pilot’s strongest points will be found in its safety package featuring ABS (anti-lock brakes) with EBD (electronic break force distribution). It also boasts a class-beating larger 86 litre larger fuel tank, anti-sliding door lock and a touch-screen display on the dashboard with Bluetooth hands-free feature

Giving insight into the BAW Pilot project, the Chairman of TSS, Mr. Frank Nneji, disclosed that the vehicle would be formally ushered into the market with a roll-out at the Enugu plant before the end of September.

He assured that the benefits of partnering with BAW, a Fortune 500 company with enormous technological advantage and experience, would be brought to bear on Pilot’s drive into Nigeria’s inter-city transportation.

”Our plan is not just to sell vehicles. BAW Nigeria is a complete package with huge investments in after-sales support featuring 16 service centers nationwide and growing. It will also interest the customers to know that 15 percent of the required replacement parts are shipped with the components for every unit we assemble,” Nneji stressed.

It was learnt that BAW Pilot parts are compatibility with the Toyota bus it looks very much like.

To ease the purchase of the bus for the customers, BAW Nigeria is also working out a finance support in partnership with partners like Diamond, Fidelity and Infrastructure Banks.