As Jelani Aliyu, Famous Chevrolet Volt Designer Officially Resumes as Automotive Council Boss

Aliyu Jelani
As Jelani Aliyu, Famous Chevrolet Volt Designer Officially Resumes as Automotive Council Boss
Aliyu Jelani

Mr. Jelani Aliyu this week, formally assumed office as the Director General of National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC). This followed his recent appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari.


The Acting Director General, Mr. Luqman Mamudu handed over the leadership baton to Mr. Aliyu at a brief ceremony witnessed by the entire management team of the Council in the presence of the management who expressed high hope of renewed impetus in the implementation of the Nigerian Automotive Industry Development Plan (NAIDP) as well as other programmes and activities of the Council.


He takes over from Engr. Aminu Jalal whose tenures expires this year. Engr Aminu Jalal has midwifed the National Automotive Policy


Who is Jeelani Aliyu, the New Automotive Council Boss? 


Jelani Aliyu, hails from Sokoto State, Nigeria and is General Motors Lead Exterior Designer and the designer of the Chevy Volt. General Motors is the world’s largest automobile maker. The car has been described as an American Revolution and one of the hottest concepts in the design line.


Jelani was born in 1966 in Kaduna, to Alhaji Aliya Haidara and Sharifiya Hauwa’u Aliyu. The fifth of seven children, theirs is a very close-knit family. For him, it was an amazing experience growing up in Sokoto, surrounded by the rich culture of the people and the state and enjoying excellent access to the latest and international information.


From 1971 to 1978, he attended Capital School, Sokoto, an excellent school and this served as a very productive educational experience for him. In 1978, he gained admission into Federal Government College, Sokoto, from where he graduated in 1983 with an award as the best in Technical Drawing.


Jelani was privileged to meet and make many good friends from all parts of the country and beyond during this time. He had tremendous encouragement and mentoring from his family and friends and his creative art develop the ed. He drew a lot, designed his own cars, and even built scale models of them, complete with exteriors and interiors.


After FGC, he got admission into the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study Architecture, but soon discovered that curriculum did not support his future vision and plans.


After considering other institutions in Nigeria and their academic programmes, he concluded that only one of them had the study criteria that would support his future goals. The institution in which he chose to pursue his education was one he felt offered the best creative programmes and had experience that would give him the best foundation required to study Automobile Design abroad. That institution was the Birnin Kebbi Polytechnic. He was there from 1986 to 1988 and earned an associate degree in Architecture, with an award as Best All-Round Student. While there, he did some in depth research into home design and construction, looking into materials and structures that would be most compatible with our environment and climate; buildings that would stay cool in a hot environment with little, or no artificial electrical air conditioning. Upon graduation from the polytechnic, Jelani worked for a while at the Ministry of Works, Sokoto.


In 1990, Aliyu moved to Detroit, Michigan to enroll at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit under a Sokoto Schorlarship board sponsorship. Having always wanted to study Automobile Design, this was a dream come true and an absolutely fascinating experience. The course was very practical and emphasis was put on creativity and the development of new designs to provide solutions . He received his degree in automobile design in 1994.


In 1994 he began his career with the design staff of General Motors. He worked on the Buick Rendezvous and was the lead exterior designer of the Pontiac G6. He also worked on the Astra with General Motors’ Opel Division.


With his brilliant work on the design of the Chevrolet Volt, which was unveiled in 2007, Jelani Aliyu is considered by many to be the super star of the General Motors renaissance.

Quotable Quotes of Jelani Aliyu from Past Interview

As Jelani Aliyu, Famous Chevrolet Volt Designer Officially Resumes as Automotive Council Boss


.. On why he chose to automotive designing?

“I’ve always loved drawing. Things around me, objects, people, plants, also stuff from my imagination. Growing up, I’ve always loved science fiction and in the movies you’d see a lot of alien spacecraft and other futuristic, imaginative things that would inspire me to look beyond. I also love cars a lot, even though then we didn’t have Ferraris in Sokoto. But we did have magazines in which I saw them and they inspired me, too. So I put together my love for drawing and cars and decided to be a car designer.”

On desirability of vibrant Nigerian Automotive Industry…

“If you look at the market, Nigeria’s population is over a hundred and seventy million. Lots of people live in remote areas and even in our cities we need new and more effective transport solutions. So this is the time to really have something in place in terms of cars for Nigeria.”

On leaving University and then heading to Polytechnics…

“Where I work now, General Motors (GM) that is, up till now they haven’t asked for my degree or the certificate. They’ve never seen it. All they care about is what I can design and produce. When they offered me a job, it was not based on the certificate but on the design presentations that I’d made. It shows the emphasis they give to creativity and the capability each individual has. And that’s what Nigerians and Nigerian institutions need to do, to look beyond the certificate, paper or whatever they call it.”

On what inspires him..

“I get a lot from nature. I get inspired by the low leaf on the lean tree, grain of rice, looking at animals on the Serengeti, the cheetah, the giraffe and so on. We live on a truly magical planet and that’s the source of my inspiration.”

Over time, tech has developed. How has this affected the way you design cars now?

On Design now and in the Past…

“When I first went for a course on Creative Studies, all the drawing and designing were done on paper. But now it’s all digital. From the first sketch to advanced levels like error testing or dynamism, everything is done digitally now. An important thing is that it also depends on the individual. Everyone has a way of coming up with a concept. For me, the best way is just to sit with a pen and paper and keep coming out with solutions as I watch nature on Discovery Channel. Once I do that, I just scan it in. I guess that was what happened with the Volt. I kind of came up with the feel and look at home watching TV and went through a number of them, saying to myself ‘this is really good’. Digital saves time and money and makes the designing process more effective.”

Do you think the automobile industry is going to pick up in Nigeria anytime soon?

“I think with the new automotive policy, with the support the government is giving to the industry, it has begun to create the momentum needed. We just need to continue pushing it through the next stages, especially in terms of enabling a Nigerian vehicle that is conceptualized, designed and developed by Nigerians for Nigerians in Nigeria. When I say Nigerian vehicle, I don’t necessarily mean the whole thing, but a vehicle designed specifically for the Nigerian populace. A vehicle in tune with the history, culture, environment and economic structure of the people, and I think we are heading there.”

“We have a unique, extreme environment so if we have a vehicle that works in Africa, it would work better elsewhere in the world.”


On Local Talents…

“I have had several encounters which are quite fascinating, especially in the old model field. There are a couple of young talented young men that I have really been impressed with. What we are really doing right now is trying to get them admission into schools abroad. What I’d really like to say is that the state government where this talented youth comes from should support them. I had the privilege of getting a Sokoto State scholarship. We need creativity and we need to appreciate that our country needs more than just doctors and lawyers. For a country to move forward, an integral part of that developmental process is Industrial Design. So we need to understand the importance of that sector by training people who already have a talent.”


  1. Having worked in a world-class facility and environment, one would expect this gentleman to recommend setting up or upgrading local facilities to train more of his types. His body language doesn’t seem to send the type of signal that conveys the future Nigeria expects from Mr Aliyu.
    The Nigerian auto-industry did not stagnate because its management were not janded but because appointments were wrongly made and this one is no different.
    Jelani Aliyu is an Art Designer whose competence dwell’s more on aesthetics than technicalities. This stage of the industry requires technocrats in management, not supporting staff.
    If an Ingenier were incharge, of course Engineers failed in the past, s/he would be talking of local alternative realities to enable cheap fancy but workable and exportable home-made cars instead of inviting Volkswagen for local assembly. He was never in management as captain of industry but was only used to the extent of his competence.
    Maybe because most politicians and policy-makers in Nigeria are either stack illiterates or own certificates but not educated, we use the wrong index in assessing and appointing people to work. Most times, such appointments are only done to give the beneficiary a means of livelihood – not really to improve on the parastatal.


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