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Africa: Return of the Ox-wagon

2013-05-16 13:44

THE OX WAGON RETURNS: Much of Africa was explored and opened up with the ox-wagon - now a British company has a motorised Ox and hopes it will benefit the continent's poor. image: Newspress

LONDON, England - Although 10% of the world’s population lives in Africa, there has never been a vehicle specifically designed and manufactured in volume to meet the rigours of the continent. That situation, it is hoped, is about to change...

Meet the Ox, a very unconventional "flat-pack" all-terrain light truck that could benefit people living in remote villages and towns across Africa and in other parts of the developing world.

Designed and built in Britain, the Ox is unlike any other vehicle and has no competitor – concept, performance or pricing It's the result of the Global Vehicle Trust’s* ambition to help people in the developing world by providing cost-effective mobility for communities to undertake crucial daily tasks, such as collecting drinking water and transporting grain, fertiliser or building materials.


Simplicity is the guiding principle behind every aspect of the Ox, its makers say "and it is the world’s first flat-pack vehicle".

"Most panels are interchangeable from one side to the other and the least possible components are used to make assembly uick. It takes three people about five-and-a-half hours to create the flat pack in the UK prior to shipping. It then takes three people 11.5 hours to assemble the vehicle from the flat pack at its destination - no special skills or equipment are required."

The Ox is capable of being flat-packed within itself. That means there is no requirement for an expensive box or individual pallets for transport, keeping freight costs to the minimum. Six Ox vehicles, including engines and transmissions, fit into a standard container. In addition, assembly labour is transferred to the importing country, where local professional companies will be found to assemble and maintain the finished vehicles.


An Ox can drive through water up to 75cm deep and has a very wide track to ensure excellent stability on rutted roads. Maximum payload is two tonnes (twice the capacity of most current bakkies) and, following EU size guidelines, can seat up to 13 people or carry eight 200-litre drums or three Euro pallets. It has a simple power take-off capable of pumping water, sawing wood or running a generator.

Designed to be at home on the roughest terrain, the Ox has a high ground clearance and short front and rear overhangs to tackle the steepest inclines.  Independent suspension front and rear, its maker says, allows easy movement over rough ground while the uncluttered underside ensures that sand, mud and other hostile surfaces do not obstruct progress.

With an overall length similar to an average family car, the Ox weighs only 1500kg. It has front-wheel drive and is powered by a robust 2.2-litre diesel engine with manual transmission.  Unladen, 73% of the OX’s weight is over the front axle and when fully loaded 53% is still over that axle.  This contributes to excellent traction in all conditions.

The driving force behind GVT and the Ox is Sir Torquil Norman, founder of the Norman Trust** which raised more than R420-million to transform The Roundhouse in Camden Town, London, into a media skills training centre and one of London’s most popular venues.


“My inspiration for the Ox goes back to the ‘Africar’ project of the 1980's," he explained. The Ox became a dream three years ago and is now a realistic ambition with a working prototype that has already completed its initial testing.

“Our sole objective at GVT is to help people in the developing world. As part of an aid programme, the Ox could provide an essential element of infrastructure to enable local populations to raise their living standards and assert their independence by gaining control of transport needs and costs.

"The Ox could also be an enormous help in transporting medicines, doctors, patients and emergency supplies and at times of natural disaster.

“We've spent about R14-million bringing the Ox to the working prototype stage and we need a furthe R42-million to take the project through to a production-ready status. This is why we are now ‘going public’ to highlight the need for investment and support to take the project to completion.

“Feedback so far from contacts in Africa and with aid agencies has been very positive. As this is a  not-for-profit endeavour we are seeking philanthropic supporters. The Ox is about making a difference now, being part of something ground-breaking, something unique. Most of all it presents a real opportunity to make a fundamental and lasting difference to people’s lives.

“Our priority now is to raise the funding to complete the testing and take the project to fruition. Our aim is that the OX will be bought by charities, aid organisations and development programmes, rather than private individuals. My dream is to one day see an Ox in every village in Africa."


Although initially planned and designed for developing countries, there has subsequently been a realisation that there is likely to be demand for fully-assembled vehicles in some European markets. It is anticipated that the Ox will appeal to farmers, estate owners and others due to its huge carrying capacity and ability to traverse rough terrain.

Any profit generated by selling CBU units in Europe would, the trust said, be ploughed back into the Global Vehicle Trust charity to fund future developments of the Ox.

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