KERDASA, Egypt (AP) — In Egypt, where many suffer under economic hardship, 35-year-old entrepreneur Ahmed Saeed el-Feki has been working hard to make something of himself. He has launched his own business building a minicar in a country that relies heavily on imports of small automobiles (view photos in gallery).
In a village not far from the Giza pyramids, el-Feki set up a small workshop to create the first Egyptian-made minicar, the "minicar Egypt."
"The idea came at the same time as the flotation of the Egyptian pound so we decided to think outside the box and create a local product to replace the Tuk Tuk," el-Feki said, referring to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's move to help shore up the country's economy.
El-Feki's golf-cart looking minicar is different in design and mechanical efficiency from the Chinese Tuk Tuk, a three-wheeled motorized vehicle used as a taxi, which is popular in Egypt. The minicar's engine power is 300cc, while the Tuk Tuk's is 175cc. The body thickness is 4mm while the Tuk Tuk is only 0.75mm. The minicar is also much safer because it is a 4-wheel car while the Tuk Tuk is only 3-wheeled. The minicar saves more fuel than the Tuk Tuk.
"The minicar is similar to the Tuk Tuk but I feel it is more practical when I drive it inside my village," said 25-year-old Hossam Gamal el-Halawany, who has been the owner of a minicar for only a few days. "It can carry more passengers, around five, in addition to the driver."
El-Halawany said, however, he worried the minicar will be registered like the Tuk Tuks which means they are restricted in movement. "I am hoping to get a license for the minicar to allow to me move around the whole city and not only my village," he says.
Millions of Egyptians, especially in rural and densely populated areas, depend on auto rickshaws because of their cheap fares and smallness that make it ideal to navigate narrow alleys. Egypt imports Tuk Tuks from China, spending about $290 million a year, according to el-Feki.
To shore up Egypt's economy, President el-Sissi imposed austerity measures as part of a comprehensive economic reform program. The program was set to meet the demands of the International Monetary Fund which secured a $12 billion bailout to Egypt last year.
Speaking outside his workshop in the village of Kerdasa, el-Feki said he has dreamed of helping shore up the country's economy since the day the Egyptian government took the unprecedented move of floating the pound.
El-Feki says the number of purchasing orders has grown and they are coming not only from Egyptian businessmen and companies but African neighboring countries as well.
El-Feki said one interested party invited him to manufacture his vehicle in Mozambique, which he declined. For him, the startup had a nationalist dimension — he hopes to contribute to the Egyptian market, create jobs and increase the country's export capacity.
El-Feki said he is now working hard on refining and upgrading his product from just a hand-made car. He was producing 30-40 per month on his own but he is now taking his business to the next level after reaching a deal with the government to have the parts manufactured in Army-run factories. The parts come back to him and he then assembles the vehicles in a separate factory space, enabling him to ramp up production.
The minicar is currently on sale for 34,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,907), significantly less expensive than the Tuk Tuk, which costs 38,000 Egyptian ($2,130 dollars).