Poor infrastructure is one of the chronic issues in African countries. Power grids, water supply, and gas lines are often unreliable or non-existent. Of all these, however, perhaps the most basic and necessary are roads—the foundation of trade and thus economic growth. Yet despite their great importance, roads in Africa are usually difficult to traverse, dangerous, or outright unusable.
To Sir Torquil Norman, an 80-year-old toy entrepreneur in the UK, this problem has an easy solution: when roads are bad, just get better vehicles. The long-time philanthropist, who is the creator behind toy sensations like Polly Pockets and Yellow Teapot Dollhouses, recently turned his attention to inventing a cheap vehicle that could provide reliable transportation in the world’s least developed areas, like Africa.
The OX, a 1.5-ton all-terrain truck, is his answer. Designed to withstand potholes and dirt roads, the oddly toy-like truck is an impressive feat of engineering. Six OX’s can pack into a standard vehicle shipment (which usually holds only two) and each one takes three men eleven hours to assemble. Norman has tailored every aspect of the truck for rough terrain, heavy loads, and cheap repair—like interchangeable doors, seats that become ramps, and an engine that doubles as a generator.
Norman’s claim is that the OX, unlike its flat-bed counterparts, uniquely fits a market niche undiscovered by major car manufacturers. While the wealthiest parts of the world demand increasingly heavier and more expensive trucks, he claims that the developing world craves a cheap, lightweight, and durable transport vehicle—an unmet demand that not only offers a lucrative opportunity, but also a philanthropic one.
“A village with an OX would suddenly be independent and could conceivably prevent its young people being forced to move to some terrible slum in a huge city,” Norman says. “I think we might just have the tiger by the tail. It seems to me we may be opening a door to making a lot of people’s lives better.”
– John Mahon