Construction work on a bus assembly plant – promoted by a partnership of Omani and Qatari investors – will commence at the Duqm Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in January 2019.
The landmark project, which is expected to jumpstart the growth of a thriving automotive manufacturing industry in the Sultanate, is backed by Karwa Motors, a strategic partnership between Qatar Transport, the national transport company in Qatar with a 70 per cent stake, and Oman Investment Fund (OIF), a sovereign wealth fund of the Sultanate of Oman, owning the balance 30 per cent.
Significantly, the first-of-its-kind bus assembly plant is being showcased at the International Road Transport Union’s World Congress, which began in Muscat yesterday. Karwa Motors is seeking to make the most of this prestigious platform, which is the world’s preeminent forum for the land transport, mobility and logistics industries, to highlight the project’s potential contribution to Oman’s, and indeed the wider region’s, future growth.
“We are exhibiting at the IRU World Congress primarily to introduce ourselves to the local and regional markets,” said Eissa al Mosalmani, Project Director – Karwa Motors. “We want everyone to know that Karwa-branded, made-in-Oman buses will be available in the local market by 2020, ready to compete with other brands at very reasonable prices.”
Speaking to the Observer, Al Mosalmani said the project was a testament to growing bilateral and economic ties between Oman and Qatar. The plant is on track for implementation at a site in Duqm, which he described as a promising industrial zone. “By the time we are in production, everything in the SEZ — electricity, water and other infrastructure — will be ready,” he noted.
According to Jamil Basha, Head of Contracts and Procurement, a tender floated by Karwa Motors for the construction of the plant has attracted a strong response from local and regional contractors. The plant will features a U-shaped assembly line with the different operational departments laid out in sequential order along this structure. This design will allow for bus kits arriving in completely-knocked-down (CKD) mode to be fed at one end, then assembled, welded, painted, and finally rolled out for shipment at the other.
Ahead of the construction of the plant, the company has also floated a tender for the principal pieces of equipment, such as cranes, conveyor systems, paint booth, and so on, to be installed at site before the plant structure is built, Basha noted.
Importantly, a contract for the construction of the plant is expected to be announced as early as before the end of this month, according to the executive. “We are on a tight timeline. The construction phase is about 14 months, which means that construction must start in January 2019 and completed by February 2020,” he stated.
At the ground-breaking ceremony held at site earlier this year, officials had estimated the project cost at $90 million in Phase 1, with total investment expected to triple to $270 million over the second and third phases.
Karwa Motors will assemble primarily coach buses, city buses and school buses tailored for the local and regional markets. Production is initially envisioned at 1,000 units per annum of coach buses, city buses and school buses. This will be progressively ramped up to 3,000 units in stages in line with market demand.
Semac Oman, the local subsidiary of prominent Indian multidisciplinary design and engineering consultancy firm, Semac Consultants, has been appointed the Main Consultant for Civil Designs. China’s MMI Planning & Engineering Institute has been named Main Consultant for Factory Design and Operations. Leading Chinese bus-maker Higer is the Technology Partner and supplier of CKD units for the Karwa Motors project.