Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Aircraftmaker offers to replace the 'bajaj'

By Kafil Yamin

BANDUNG (JP): First came the controversial Timor "national" car, which boasted self-reliant technology but was imported from South Korea. It was doomed to bankruptcy.

Then came the abortive Maleo car project, which was previously expected to be the genuine homemade vehicle.

Coming soon is Kancil, literally meaning "deer", which is designed to meet public demand for more affordable, flexible and tougher vehicles.

With a height of 1.2 meters, width of 1.2 m and length 2.8 m, Kancil is a mini vehicle with capacity for four people, including the driver. It is projected to replace the popular bajaj (three- wheeled motorized vehicle) in Jakarta.

Adding to Kancil's credit is its manufacturer, not an automotive company, but the national aircraft manufacturer, Indonesian Aerospace (IAe), recently renamed from IPTN.

"We are now producing vehicles, but with the quality standard of aircraft," said an employee who works at the quality control division.

The mini car will use a Subaru engine, imported from Japan, according to Soleh Affandi of IAe's public relations department.

Kancil, which stands for Kendaraan Angkutan Niaga Cilik Irit Lincah (mini, energetic, economical commercial vehicle), is slated to hit the market early next year with technical specifications of 14.5 maximum horsepower output, a 4-speed gearbox and speeds up to 100-km per hour. The fuselage is made from composite fiber which makes it much lighter and corrosion- proof.

The creation is the result of cooperation between IAe and PT Kancil, which will initially produce 5,000 units next year. IAe has now finished three prototypes of Kancil.

According to PT Kancil, which also produces the Winner and Mallika Puch Hero motorcycles, the composite body and low-powered engine will be a competitive advantage for this vehicle.

"The composite body will make repairs on damaged part of the body much easier, while the engine design meets the international standard of safe products. In short, Kancil will become an affordable, safe and ecofriendly vehicle," said Setia W. Abednego, director of PT Kancil.

Abednego claimed that some neighboring countries were interested in this vehicle, making it a new potential foreign exchange earner.

When Kancil begins to hit the market, or so the scenario goes, bajaj will leave the capital and migrate to regional cities. Negotiations have been underway between PT Kancil and the city administrations, governors and mayors over the replacement of the bajaj.

This has, however, sparked public criticism.

"What we need is mass transport that is capable of carrying thousands of people. Mass transport should be comfortable and affordable," said Kusbiantoro, a public transport expert. "Only this means of transport can partially solve the problem of traffic congestion".

"Producing huge numbers of mini vehicles will even worsen the traffic," he added.

If things go smoothly, the cooperation will extend to Kancil cars, with a 1,000 cc engine. Critics say this plan will worsen traffic congestion in the future.

Also, transporting bajaj from Jakarta to regional cities will just mean transporting noise and air pollution from the capital to healthier places.

But things should be fixed before the business really starts. The first thing is IAe's capability of producing 5,000 units in one year.

"Frankly speaking, we are incapable (of a one-year arrangement)," said Affandi. "I think it can be done in five years or so."

The other thing is the projected price per unit. A production manager at IAe said that with the set price ranging from Rp 15 million to Rp 30 million, the project was not viable. "Composite material is more costly than metal. It is more so when you take manpower into account," he said.

The most plausible arrangement for IAe is to focus on tooling, and to mainly use body molds. Still, this project remains unprofitable for IAe. So why is the company willing to go ahead with the project?

"The company has no choice," said a Kancil employee. "If the company has no any projects, then we have no work. Most of the projects are not profitable because they are not the company's core business, which is aircraft," he said.

Most of IAe's projects now are not aircraft-based. Still, the company remains in need of its skilled workers just to keep it running. IAe is negotiating with the Community Aid Institution of Bandung's Institute of Technology to produce fishing boats.

"We lack projects. Practically, we have no work to do now," said an employee who asked for anonymity.

He said he often went to the office just to read newspapers, which he shared with his work mates. "After that, we will discuss political issues. We feel like we are politicians!"

Some workers with more creativity make exciting personal products, like car accessories, for themselves just to kill time.

Sources at IAe said that non-aircraft projects made up about 70 percent of the current workload, and that the 30 percent making up aircraft projects was mostly undervalued.

Being spoiled with state funds for decades, the aircraft manufacturer now has to live on its own. Things were quiet in the vast workplace when The Jakarta Post passed through recently. Huge machines stood idle with only few visible workers.

The company is set to layoff, for the third time, some 5,000 employees soon as part of a restructuring drive.