Around the middle of this month, Africa’s biggest city (by population), Lagos, launched its premier electric car. This doubles up as the first electric car assembled in Nigeria.
This modern-day vehicle, which was unveiled by the Lagos state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, goes by the brand name: “Hyundai Kona,” and is a product of Stallion Group. This car reportedly costs about USD 63 K (NGN 24 Mn).
During the launch, the Lagos State Governor pledged to make electricity charging points available across the state, as it is necessary generally for the usage of Electric Vehicles (EV).
The Hyundai Kona car manufactured by Stallion Group is fully electric and as expected, comes with zero-emission, and can be charged both at home and outside the home.
But hold on, here’s one thing. While this may sound like a big bang or a breakthrough so to speak, taking a closer look unveils that it’s not something to be fully giddy about just yet.
This is because, beyond the production of electric vehicles, the adoption of such “clean” vehicles matters more, and that adoption is hinged on many factors, which, unfortunately, Nigeria and even the rest of Africa are yet to get a handle on.
To start with, a deep dive into the general overview of Electric Vehicles and how it has evolved over the years wouldn’t hurt, as this could provide more context.
Side note: The “Electric Vehicle” is a big umbrella that houses other vehicle types, beyond just cars. Although electric cars are more patronized, there still exist other classes of electric vehicles.
What is the buzz about Electric Vehicles?
An electric vehicle is one that works solely on electricity unlike the other variant, which is powered by gasoline. These types of vehicles require a constant supply of energy from batteries and hence need to be frequently charged or powered.
One would have thought that the buzz about electric cars started just in the 21st century, but this is, however, not the case. Electric vehicles first emerged way back in the 19th century. Its origin can be traced back to 1828 via a Hungarian inventor, Anyos Jedlik.
Jedlik invented a rudimentary electric motor to power a small model car and in essence, is a pioneer for the modern electric vehicle. However, this early invention didn’t get much patronage and later seemingly disappeared.
Later in 1910, Henry Ford orchestrated the mass production of fossil fuel-powered cars and this disappeared the already narrow market of electric vehicles. Also, around that period, the price of gasoline crashed drastically and hence worked in the favour of the massive adoption of gasoline-powered vehicles as opposed to electric.
The 21st century then ushered the breakthrough we now see regarding electric vehicles, as there increasingly has been a rise in its global acceptance. Without a doubt, the increased adoption of Electric Vehicles can be described as one of the best things to have happened in the last two decades.
One of the most exciting things about Electric Vehicles is how they contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and by extension help in reducing global warming which is the factor behind the climate change issue. The advent of electric vehicles has been significant in the fight for the world to go “green” as a response to tackling climate change.
Another reason for the increasing focus on electric cars is as a result of the hike in the price of petroleum over time, in comparison with the prices in preceding centuries. Also, since gasoline isn’t a renewable energy source, it is anticipated that it would near exhaustion in the future. All these factors combined, contribute to the hiking demand for electrically powered vehicles
Globally, key market players in electric vehicles include Tesla, BMW Group, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, etc, as they account for the majority of the electric vehicles market share.
However, the world’s second-largest continent, Africa, appears to be behind, and by some distance too, in the global adoption of electric vehicles.
The state of Electric Vehicles in Africa
The African continent seems to find itself behind the rest of the world with regard to myriad innovations and their adoption, and this has also been the case with the coming of electric vehicles.
Undoubtedly, electric vehicles are a great innovation and are one of the best things to happen in today’s world, as it supports the mission of the world to go green. However, the question to be answered is, can electric vehicles get a foothold in the African continent?
Firstly, for electric vehicles to work, there needs to be constant, reliable electricity, and Africa as a whole already has a bad track record on that.
A continent where only 10 percent of the population has access to the electrical grid. It doesn’t end there, some of the areas covered by the electrical grid have unreliable power still.
Also, not only is electricity not constant, but it is also expensive, as electricity costs in Africa (in relation to household income) appear to be one of the highest in the world. So, do electric vehicles stand a chance at this point? Hardly.
While electric vehicles have more advantages than gasoline vehicles, it costs more, as it still is behind in mass production which is supposed to help it in price reduction. So, the thought this springs up is, can the average person afford it?
Well, it’s no secret that many African countries are found at the top on the list of the lowest per capita income countries of the world. Nigeria, for instance, despite being the continent’s largest economy and most populous country, has the infamous record of being the world’s poverty capital at present.
If the EV doesn’t, at the very least, become nearly as affordable as fossil fuel-powered vehicles, then its adoption on the continent could remain the stuff of fiction.
Furthermore, the piddling availability of infrastructure necessary for the growth of electric vehicles is a negative sign for the market. One such infrastructure is the electric vehicle charging stations, just like there are fuel stations. Building this would require investment from both the government and private bodies.
However, It’s important to note that despite all these stated challenges, efforts have been put into the adoption of electric vehicles as they are already being sold in Africa.
How African nations are faring with the EV task
On the continent, South Africa is the leading country seemingly making progress in the adoption of electric vehicles. South Africa has two prominent electric car models; Nissan LEAF, and BMW i3.
But despite being a trailblazer in Africa, South Africa still falls short of other countries across the globe. The current statistics show the electric car sales in South Africa to be meagre at best. In 2015, only 160 electric cars were sold in the country.
Also, South Africa as at 2019, is home to about 180 charging stations and that is so far the highest on the continent. In 2019, the number of electric cars on South African roads was estimated to be about 1,000.
In Uganda, there exists a company called Kiira Motors which is a state-owned company. A few months ago, Kiira Motors was reported to be planning to produce not just electric cars, but also buses which would be used as a part of the public transportation system in Uganda’s major cities.
It was also reported that the construction of an electric car plant is ongoing and is estimated to begin operation by 2021. The plant according to the authorities, will be capable of producing 5,000 electric cars every year.
Also, a fast-growing logistic startup, MAX.ng, (which formerly also cut it in bike-hailing) announced plans in 2019 to convert its gasoline-powered motorcycles to electric machines with the assistance of electric vehicle manufacturers, and some progress has been made since.
Similarly, in Rwanda, there are more motorcycles in the capital, Kigali, than cabs in New York, and a Rwandan startup, Ampersand is making the whole fleet go electric one bike at a time. There’s also a Volkswagen electric-car assembly plant in operation in Rwanda.
In addition, EkoRent Africa secured an investment of EUR 1 Mn (USD 1.19 Mn) just days ago to enable the company to scale up its pioneering NopeaRide electric mobility initiative in Nairobi, Kenya.
The target is for this initiative to accelerate access to zero-emissions taxi-hailing vehicles for businesses and private customers.
Can Electric Vehicles be a blessing to Africa?
Undoubtedly, electric vehicles would do a lot of good to the African continent, just like it could do to the rest of the world.
One point that can be attributed to is the increasing cost of petroleum over the years and since petroleum isn’t renewable, it might become depleted enough to become scarce someday, who knows?
Nearly all of Africa’s transportation is by road (90 percent) which leads to an obvious dependency on fossil fuels, and the pollution problems this brings is huge.
Thus, electric cars, as an alternative for transportation, would relieve the continent of its helpless fossil fuel-powered transport dependency and perhaps also take away the cost burden on fuel expenses.
Also, electric vehicles, if adopted more, would undoubtedly increase the quality of air, and by extension, the quality of life in African cities as there would be reduced gas emissions. This might help pump up the already comparatively low average life expectancy of an African citizen.
Globally, the market for electric vehicles is already growing at an exponential rate, with close to 5 million vehicles already sold globally as of 2019.
It has been predicted by experts that by 2040, 54 percent of new global car sales will be electric. Quite recently, Britain announced a plan to ban new petrol vehicles by 2030, setting a target of creating 250,000 new jobs in the green revolution.
Africa still has quite a long way to go on the journey to the adoption of electric vehicles. However, it’s great to see that work has begun on that front, however slowly.
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