Even a cursory look at Dhaka roads choked with cars is certain to belie the fact that the country does not have one single automobile manufacturing plant. Roads congested with private cars in other major cities of the country will only confirm such an impression. If the absence of a manufacturing plant can be somehow accepted, there is no reason for reconciling with non-existence of a few full-fledged assembling plants. The sole assembling plant under the ministry of industries, Progoti Industries Ltd., after a long hibernation, has started assembling the Mitsubishi cars, jeeps and Tata buses on a limited scale since a few years back. Now the government is reportedly thinking of setting up a modern car assembling plant at Barabkundu in Chattogram. This proposed state-of-the-art assembling plant will have all the facilities required for assembling around 50,000 types of vehicles annually. Evidently, to turn out such a wide variety of vehicles, the plant will have to be gigantic in size and capacity.
What is notable here is that such a move should have been initiated years ago when reconditioned cars started flooding the market. By this time foreign exchange worth billions of taka has drained out of the country on import of both new and reconditioned cars, jeeps, buses, trucks and other vehicles. Admittedly, duty on imported cars is outrageously high. If cars were assembled even on knocked-down basis, customers could own cars almost at the price of reconditioned ones, provided that the duty was kept at a reasonable level. However good reconditioned cars may be, those cannot be an alternative to new ones and additionally they are likely to pollute the environment more than the latest ones. Considering the technological development car manufacturers bring about with an eye to cleaner environment and safety issues, the latest models always enjoy a mileage over their old versions.
So, if world famous and popular car manufacturing companies set up their assembling plants here, there is the possibility of deriving multifarious benefits from the collaboration. Employment of local people -from mechanics to engineers and from sweeper to manager - and the return on the products from accessories to the finished cars highlight a huge prospect for the country's economy. Already a number of foreign automobile companies have entered agreements with local entrepreneurs to set up assembling plants. But the assurance given by the Mitsubishi for gradually converting its plant into a full manufacturing plant is most welcome.
However, now that the environmental concern is high on the agenda, the country should have its priority right. Western countries are in a race against time to bring out their electric cars on the road. Such initiatives have had moderate success so far. But it can reasonably be expected that there will soon be a breakthrough in electric car technology by which the automotive industry will be able to produce economical and safe vehicles. There is no point manufacturing diesel or petrol engines when the world moves on clean and green electric engines.
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