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KARACHI: Long ride to first home-grown car

August 08, 2005

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KARACHI, Aug 7: Feroze Khan believes his future was already determined when his homeless mother gave birth to him on a car porch. More than half a century later, he has launched Pakistan’s first home-grown automobile.

It’s been a long road for the boy from a poor Karachi neighbourhood whose life-long fascination with engines, gears and wheels has just driven his native country into the exclusive club of nations designing and producing cars.

“Every nation in the world has taken a lot of pride in making cars, and I wanted to contribute it to my country,” says Khan, whose company has just rolled out his pride and joy — the Revo.

The compact, five-door 800cc model has made a splash on the roads of Karachi in recent weeks. The snub-nosed model costs 270,000 rupees (about 4,500 dollars), some 30 to 40 percent cheaper than entry-level rivals.

“Everyone has liked the way the car looks,” Khan says. “Everyone has liked the engine sound, and the ride is more comfortable than the competitors’.

“The clients’ response is good since it is the first Pakistani car.”

Khan, 56, is undaunted by the competition he faces from global auto giants from Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States and says that perseverance pays off.

“It’s a marathon,” he explains. “I am not running a 100-metre race.”

Growing up in Aamil Colony, Khan learnt to dream big early, idolizing Ratan Tata, the legendary Indian automobile manufacturer and business tycoon.

By his early twenties he was graduate engineer, going on to build a major car parts company.

“I started on the project seven years ago,” Khan says, “four years for preparations of technology, and three years to work actively on the car.”

The process was a bumpy ride, he recounts.

“It is our national psyche that if you are a Pakistani you can only do a mediocre or a bad thing,” he says. “We want to change that.”

In April, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited the Revo’s roll-out ceremony in Karachi.

“This is a red-letter day in the history of our manufacturing sector,” the premier told the assembled guests. “With this, Pakistan has joined the club of 16 countries having the capability of designing an original car.”

Like a proud father,Khan praises the virtues of the little Revo — a car born and bred in Pakistan with the poorly-maintained roads and hot climate of the South Asian country in mind.

He acknowledges that the car may not yet have the long-refined reliability of its Pakistani-assembled but foreign-designed rivals.

“I am sure that the car is very reliable. I have made sure that we have not cut any corner on quality.”

With a top speed of 150 kilometres (93 miles) per hour and the option to run on natural gas, the Revo can claim both reasonable performance and economy.

Khan is confident his tiny newcomer can squeeze into a gap in the market, based on its budget price and strength and space designed specifically with the needs of Pakistani families in mind.

Pakistan has seen an annual 46 per cent growth in car production over the past three years but there is still a gap in supply of 20,000 to 25,000 cars, Khan says.

Still, not everyone is excited. Critics have grumbled that the Revo has foreign components, including a Chinese-made engine and transmission. But that is about to change now that Millat Tractor has agreed to build the transmission, Khan says.

“And in September we will start setting up an engine assembling plant next to our present plant,” he boasts. “By 2007, we will have this engine being manufactured here in Pakistan.”

— AFP