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Posted on March 4th, 2014

Outside the Box – Basic Utility Vehicle

The Basic Utility Vehicle, or BUV, was initially crafted by a former automotive industry executive who felt that reliable transportation was vital to the success and happiness of all people. Will Austin, the founder of the Institute for Affordable Transportation, believes that many people in developing countries are spending much of their days attending to basic needs such as gathering firewood and collecting water. He thought that if these people had alternative forms of transportation other than their own two feet, they could spend more time tending to their crops and livestock. The idea of the BUV was born from this realization.

The Owabi dam in Ghana supplies 2 million gallons of water a day to nearby Kumasi. It can be a difficult journey to and from the dam when one relies on their own strength to carry the water, but thanks to the influx of BUVs, the task has become somewhat easier. This 50-cm color WorldView-2 imagery comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe and was captured January 5th, 2013. The image has been enhanced by Apollo Mapping.

Similar in appearance to a large ATV or golf cart, the BUV is a 10-horsepower gocart of sorts that maintains a low center of gravity to prevent it from tipping over, and also features a 1,200 pound payload. At a cost of about $3,000, it offers a lot for a small price tag. After the idea came to fruition, the first BUV was sent to Mexico in 2001; and by 2005, the first BUV training factory had been established in Indianapolis. By 2007, the first BUV factory outside the USA was established in Honduras. Now the training factories are springing up all over Africa, allowing citizens to build their own machines and to create another industry that not only brings in more revenue but also significantly aids quality of life.

When the company first started, they did so with the help of American universities by creating a competition to design effective and efficient vehicles that could withstand the rugged terrain and heavy use that would be required of them. Auburn University won the first completion in 2001, though since that time many other schools have gotten into the field. A recent standout is Purdue University, who has partnered with The African Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies to improve upon the current design. After having won the 2012 competition, Purdue students in May of that year traveled to Cameroon to test their prototype. Their BUV was designed using the latest in 3-D modeling software, and through the use of this technology amongst others, they were able to create an improved BUV at roughly the same cost as the current market price. In their updated design, they introduced front suspension, braking ability to all three wheels and a 5-speed transmission.

There are currently 22 countries that benefit from the use of BUVs, with Ghana having the highest concentration of BUVs. The Institute for Affordable Transportation primarily functions in tandem with Christian organizations to set up their factories abroad, as it has been a popular choice for missionary groups. There are currently two factory partners in Africa, i.e. Senegal and South Africa, though there are 10 studies throughout the continent for prospective mini-factories to aid in the manufacture and distribution of the vehicles. If you are interested in getting involved or donating a BUV, you can visit their website at

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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