While most of the cars we tend to encounter on a daily basis are made by huge, global corporations, it’s important to remember that there’s interesting cars being put together all over the world, including places that one doesn’t normally associate with automobile production. Madagascar is one of those places. As an island with a fairly small population, you wouldn’t think they’d have a completely indigenous and local car industry. But they do. It’s not big, but it is very interesting, and I think the cars they’ve built are pretty damn cool.
If you happen want something rugged and useful from Madagascar, you really only have one option: a lovely new Karenjy Mazana II.
Karenjy was started back in 1984 by Madagascar’s government in an attempt to diversify the island nation’s economy beyond vanilla bean farming and light textile industries. This first era of Karenjy (which means “stroll” in Malagasy) wasn’t exactly a resounding triumph, but they did have some highlights, including building what has to be the most obscure Popemobile ever.
These first-gen Karenjy Mazanas looked sort of like a cross between a Volkswagen Thing, a Citroën Mehari, and a porta-potty. Somehow, I don’t mean that as an insult. The bodies were fiberglass, all the glass was flat, and the car had a rugged, simple, purposeful look to it.
That makes sense, because it was rugged, simple, and purposeful. It used a 2.0-liter Renault diesel engine, and came in several variants, two and four-doors, hardtops or open, and later, there was a pickup truck variant.
Madagascar went through a good bit of political turmoil in the early 1990s, and in 1993 the factory was placed under governmental control. The government leapt into action by completely ignoring the company, effectively shutting it down and letting the factory fall into ruin.
Up until this point, somewhere around 100 cars had been built by Karenjy; not a huge number, but impressive considering the conditions and the overall car market in Madagascar.
After sitting dormant for over a decade, in 2008 French-Malagasy company Le Relais bought what was left of Karenjy and set about to restart production. They continued to produce the pickup variant until 2014, when all efforts went to developing the newest model, the Mazana II.
The Mazana II has been in production since 2015, and is currently the only Malagasy designed-and-built car available in the world. The Mazana II uses a 1.6-liter Peugeot DV6CM diesel engine making a decent 112 horsepower, with four-wheel drive. The body is now said to be made from “Polyester-laminate finerglass” which does sound impressive.
Design-wise, the Mazana II retains the no-bullshit, angular look of its predecessors, but the body design is now something like a tall sedan with an open rear deck. It’s technically a crew-cab pickup, I suppose, but proportionally it reads more like a strange, beefy sedan.
Though Karenjy’s production has normally been about 12 cars a year, the company has some optimistic hopes, with goals of 25 cars for 2017 and a staggering 50 for 2018.
The first one was sold in April of last year, at a price of 49,500, 000 Ariary, which is about $15,840.
So, there you go: for the price of a crappy Nissan Versa, you can own a tough, unique off-roader that’s roomy and practical and with a body that won’t rust. You’ll almost forget about the certain impossibility of registering it legally in America when you think about how you’ll own and drive the only car from Madagascar.
I think that’s worth it.