Jelani Aliyu, MFR, is Hausa. He was born and raised in Sokoto, but his thesis supervisor Carl Olsen testifies that of all the American students he had, Aliyu spoke the best English as well as submitted the best car designs. Raised in Sokoto, yes but his sokoto (trousers) couldn’t contain his dreams so he flew to America because he’d always wanted to be a car designer. Today, he is the Senior Creative Designer, General Motors.
Before we talk about the Chevrolet Volt, his futuristic design for GM that placed him ahead of 200 other designers, let’s talk about his passion for Nigeria, which he never lost for one day while basking in his American exploits and fame.
As head of EcoSahel Global Ventures, a Nigerian company, the automotive/industrial designer and technology entrepreneur, Aliyu has developed a solar-powered laptop that is powerful, rugged, versatile and durable, with the ability to take the harsh conditions of any environment. He calls it SOL. It gets its power directly from the sun and so does not need to be plugged in, enabling study, work and communication from anywhere.
“Our future lies not in technologies and systems that are incompatible with our cultures and climate; our future lies in solar energy. The sooner we, as individuals, researchers, institutions, entrepreneurs and leaders, adopt this free and clean power source, the earlier we shall be self-sufficient in energy to power our lives, cities, farms and industries” Aliyu once told a national daily, Leadership.
He also reminds us that Nigeria is blessed with abundant sunlight and it is only logical that we leverage this power source to power our lives. The SOL is set to be one of the most significant products in Nigeria; it is both a laptop and a power generator.
The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid that operates as a pure battery electric vehicle until its plug-in battery capacity drops to a predetermined threshold from full charge. From there its internal combustion engine powers an electric generator to extend the vehicle’s range as needed. When the engine is running it may be periodically mechanically linked (by a clutch) to a planetary gear set, and hence the output drive axle, to improve energy efficiency. The Volt’s regenerative braking also contributes to the on-board electricity generation.
Aliyu first studied Architecture, the closest thing to car designing in Nigeria at the Birnin Kebbi Polytechnic. He later enrolled at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan where he studied Transportation Design. Upon graduation from the College for Creative Studies, Aliyu obtained a position with General Motors, where he worked at the GM Tech Centre for about three years and then an international assignment took him to Germany for nearly two years to work at Opel.
After his tenure at Opel, he returned to the GM Tech Center, where he came up with the design for the Chevrolet Volt Electric Car, a vehicle that is crucial not just to GM but to the whole industry and world in general.
Aliyu says: “We must never underestimate the amazing power of human imagination, the ability to envision a dramatically positive and dynamic future. Every great city, every monument, every historic feat, as it stands for all the world to see, was once pure thought, pure imagination acted upon and brought into reality. To imagine is to dream, to dream is to tune in to the ever fascinating possibilities of the future. And when we do dream, it must be big, because to dream small is to totally underestimate the amazing capabilities that lie within each and every one of us.”
Carl Olsen calls Aliyu, “the Poet Laureate of Transportation Design.” This Sunday, this week, this month as a new President and administration is sworn into office, and indeed throughout this year of our national turnaround, you too can live your dream like Aliyu. Sleep, dream but don’t slip or sleep on it!