Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sukiat: The Henry Ford of Klaten

Sukiat: The Henry Ford of Klaten
Ganug Nugroho Adi, Contributor, Klaten, Central Java | Tue, 01/17/2012 10:02 PM
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JP/Ganug Nugroho AdiJP/Ganug Nugroho AdiThe man seems like just your average villager.

A month ago not many people would have recognized Sukiat, who might only have been familiar to customers at his automotive workshop.

But, in the last two weeks, he has become a celebrity with the emergence of the Kiat Esemka. Sukiat was the chief architect behind the success of the cars constructed by vocational high school (SMK) students in Central Java.

“I only helped the SMK students. The eventual production of Kiat Esemka cars as we see them now has resulted from their hard work and perseverance,” said Sukiat, quite unassumingly.

Sukiat has a long history in the automotive world. Years before starting his workshop, the man was a tire patcher and gasoline retailer. In fact, his father was a rich and respected lurik (striped handmade cotton) businessman in Jotang Kradenan village in Klaten, Central Java.

“After finishing junior high I entered a technical high school [now SMK], but only for a while because I was scorned by my classmates for having one leg that was shorter than the other. I quit and took a sewing class at the Prof. Dr. Soeharso Rehabilitation Center in Solo,” recalled the man born in Klaten on April 22, 1957.

One of Sukiat’s legs failed to grow properly due to polio when he was 6, causing him to wobble as he walks. But, this physical handicap served to boost his independent and unwavering attitude.

In 1975 he joined a six-month motorcycle mechanic’s training program at the Darmais Foundation. After completing the training, he worked at a motorcycle workshop before opening his own body repair and paint workshop for Vespa scooters in 1978.

“The starting capital was
Rp 75,000 [US$8.25], which I’d saved from the foundation’s training stipend. My parents offered additional capital but I wouldn’t accept it as I had enough to start with,” said the father of two.

His painting workshop drew a lot of motorcyclists because Sukiat’s childhood experience mixing lurik dyes made him skilled in creating paint blends. His customers came not only from Klaten but also its surrounding cities, particularly
Yogyakarta and Solo.

Originally intended for Vespa painting only, his workshop eventually offered auto body repair and painting. Now, the shop in Trucuk, Klaten, has turned into a large bodywork industry called Kiat Motor, with assets in the hundreds of billions of rupiah.

Sukiat has been invited to give trainings in automotive painting in Japan, China and several European countries. “Now I can afford a life of leisure until I die. But that’s not what I want. I’ve got to keep working because I still have a dream to enable the country to produce its own cars,” he said.

In 2007 he began to try and realize that dream. He modified a sedan into something resembling a Toyota Land Cruiser. Director of SMK Development at the Education and Culture Ministry at that time, Joko Sutrisno, was amazed and offered to cooperate to assemble the cars by involving SMK students. Since then, Kiat Motor has become a practice lab for students to build engines and other components through experimentation.

The idea to build Esemka cars arose when Sukiat motivated Trucuk SMK students whose school was possibly being shut down. The students apprenticed in the bodywork industry and also learned how to dismantle and assemble cars and engines, aside from automotive body construction and painting.

“I tried to design body and chassis prototypes of Kiat Esemka cars with students of State SMK Trucuk, State SMK 2 and SMK Warga Solo. Kiat Esemka prototypes were displayed at the Prized Product Expo at the Jakarta Convention Center in 2010,” he said.

But, he noted that his exhibit got no response. The first generation Kiat Esemka cars did attract the attention of Surakarta Mayor Joko Widodo [Jokowi] when they were shown at the Students’ Creation Forum in Ngarsopuro, Solo, a year later.

“Pak Jokowi challenged students to build a different kind of car for official use but the cars needed to be strong and elegant. December was set as the deadline and it was already July,” Sukiat said.

In early 2012, black Kiat Esemka SUVs with luxury interiors were presented to Jokowi, and he was captivated. Sukiat claims the cars have 80 percent local components and 20 percent imports.

“I guarantee Kiat Esemka products are locally made. We keep striving to increase the local components to 91 percent. It’s really difficult as parts like piston rings, differential gears and speedometers can’t be made here yet. But someday the nation will produce them. It is a process,” Sukiat said.

Apart from the SMKs in Klaten and Solo, 15 other schools in various parts of Jakarta, Central Java and East Java are now cooperating with Kiat Motor. Between 2010 and 2011, Sukiat and his SMK students produced 10 cars, including the two that have become the official cars of the Surakarta mayor and deputy mayor.

“Everything is handmade. A car takes two to three months to build. Thank God many people are interested in our products now. It’s good for the SMK students so they’re no longer belittled. For a long time they were seen as having less ability than general high school students,” he said.

The man, dubbed the Henry Ford of Klaten by his students, hopes his dream of a national car is about to come true, and says he hopes the government will soon grant licenses for mass production after the completion of emissions tests.

According to Sukiat, Kiat Esemkas can become national cars if all stakeholders in the country consistently provide their support. In addition, the cars made by SMK students serve as proof that this nation is not inferior to other countries.

“It’s not enough to have pride. When we have our own products later, we should use them. When our mother has cooked food at home, why should we buy the same food at the stall next door?” Sukiat asked.

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