TOYOTA SA has begun assembling the popular Ses'fikile model at its Prospecton, Durban plant in half the usual time that it takes to set up such an operation.

This follows a request from the government to start making the minibus taxi in SA once again, CEO Johan Van Zyl said on Friday.

The African National Congress (ANC) has been calling for greater involvement by government in the economy to fight poverty, unemployment and income inequality.

Toyota will have the ability to deliver up to 15 000 Ses'fikile units to the Southern African market each year after the first phase. Initial production volumes were estimated at 10000 units. Toyota made the Ses'Fekile's predecessor, the Hi-Ace, in SA between 1994 and 2007, and imported the Toyota Quantum between 2007 and this year.

The major difference between the imported Quantum and the Ses'fikile is a sixteenth seat, which was added after many requests from the taxi industry. The seat was fitted with help from Toyota in Japan, said Fezile Myoli, vice-president of Toyota' s assembly division No3. The new facility would create 90 new internal jobs and 210 component supplier jobs.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said the government helped by being flexible enough to allow the automotive investment scheme to include semi-knock -down vehicle assembly, as opposed to only complete-knock -down assembly.

The difference between the two is manufacturing the vehicle locally, and importing most of its components and assembling it locally.

Mr Davies also said the changes would only apply to 2015, after which he expected that Toyota would be in a position to completely manufacture the Ses'fikile model in SA.

Of the 19 000-odd minibus taxis purchased in SA in 2009, less than 100 were produced locally, yet the taxi industry moved millions of people daily. "It's a situation we needed to turn around, so when this proposal came our way we decided to be as accommodative as possible," said Mr Davies.

The government would push for "preferences and support" in the taxi recapitalisation programme to boost the sales of locally produced minibuses. He said there was also potential for sales in other African countries, once regional integration initiatives such as the Southern African Development Community Free Trade Agreement were implemented, and rules of origin regulations were applied.

Mr Davies said the government had begun a study into a programme for further medium and heavy commercial vehicle manufacture in SA.

This was because the state's infrastructure development programme would boost demand for the vehicles, and indications were that making these kinds of vehicles was more labour intensive, hence in line with creating many more jobs. Mr Davies said the government envisaged that there would be further investment by the motor industry in minibus taxi manufacture in the future, to R1bn, which would support another 2 000 direct jobs in the assembly of the vehicles.

National Union of Metalworkers of SA president Irwin Jim said the union was "very happy" with the new facility. He said the "global crisis in capitalism" had showed that countries that invested in manufacturing tended to be more resilient through a crisis.

weste@bdfm.co.za