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Plucky Madagascar car maker hopes to shift up a gear, drive sales growth

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar--When you next shop around for a new car, the chances are you will not buy a Karenjy.

For a start, only a dozen are built each year, by hand, on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and none are exported outside the impoverished nation.

They don't come with electric windows, airbags, sat nav, or other conveniences long considered standard.

And in terms of looks, their long sloping front and boxy hindquarters may be something of an acquired taste.

All this has meant that since Karenjy was founded by the state in 1984, the island's only car manufacturer has been thoroughly pummeled by foreign competition on its home turf.

“Everything is based on design and the previous Karenjys looked very bulky,” said Nantenaina Andrianaivoson, a young Malagasy father who drives a Peugeot 307.

“There was plenty of room for improvement.”

Even a Papal endorsement from John Paul II, who cruised around the central city of Fianarantsoa on a custom built Karenjy “Papamobile” during a 1989 visit, was not enough to save the firm.

In 1993, Karenjy — which means “a stroll” in Malagasy — was placed under administration and the government simply abandoned it, spelling a slow walk to death.

The factory became dilapidated, its shop floor surrendered to vegetation that grows quickly in the hot sun on this island of 20 million residents off southeast Africa.

Building materials were unusable, but a few tools and a spare car remained.

'Rebirth'

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A prototype of the new Karenjy Mazana II car drives on a street of Fianarantsoa, southern Madagascar, on Aug. 5.

(AFP

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