/ 21 October 2022

Africa’s electrifying its fossil-fuelled cars

Nigeriataxi Gettyimages 1243521451
Electric avenue: Minibus taxis in Nigeria. The high cost of fuel, pollution, global warming and government regulations are behind the move to electric vehicles. Photo: Damilola Onafuwa/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Although the price of electric vehicles (EVs) puts them way out of the reach of many people around the world, some startups in Africa are up-cycling regular internal combustion engine vehicles to clean transmission and building battery-powered vehicles from scratch.

In May this year, Nigerian entrepreneur Mustapha Gajibo, who had been converting petrol minibuses into electric vehicles, announced plans to build solar battery-powered buses from scratch.

Gajibo, 30, a resident of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, said the geopolitical climate that has pumped up fuel prices would drive the uptake of electric vehicles in that market.

His startup is now building a 12-seater minibus that can cover up to 200km on a single charge, making it affordable to run and ideal for city commuting.

Gajibo’s early uptake of electric conversions and the publicity surrounding it has been a shot in the arm for the wider adoption of converted and electric vehicles. 

Before Gajibo’s foray into the business, the emphasis was on converting diesel and petrol-propelled game-viewing vehicles into electric vehicles, because of size and design made it easy to install electric motors.

Fuelling the adoption of electric safari vehicles are luxury safari lodges operating in some of the continent’s premium safari destinations such as the Kruger National Park (South Africa), Maasai Mara National Reserve (Kenya), Serengeti National Park (Tanzania), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), Etosha (Namibia), Hwange (Zimbabwe), South Luangwa (Zambia) and the Okavango Delta (Botswana).

Startups in Kenya and South Africa are where most of the conversions of diesel and petrol Land Rovers or Toyota Land Cruisers are done. It costs in the region of $25 000 to $45 000 to convert a vehicle. Where possible, solar panels to capture further green energy are built into the roof of the vehicle.

Operators argue that despite the high cost, the return on investment makes it worthwhile, given the appeal to tourists of green, silent travel in the bush.

But with new affordable and lightweight EV conversion kits for cars and hybrid systems going for as low as $8 000 for smaller cars, the conversion of sedans is set to become a wider consumer trend.

Africa is already witnessing the expansion of EV charging networks in crucial markets, signalling greater adoption of clean mobility on the continent. Governments are seeing opportunities in this for job creation and have been dishing out licences to companies making conversions in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

In 2020, the Kenya Bureau of Standards became one of the first state agencies to issue Knights Energy and Swedish-owned Opibus licences to convert tourism vans and buses to electric engines. 

According to the government, EV conversion plans fit into Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan 2018-23, which identified operational inefficiencies in the transport sector, heavy traffic congestion and high fuel consumption as major contributors to high levels of carbon emissions.

For many entrepreneurs, however, it is simple arithmetic; if you can’t sell EVs new, then offer conversions. But there is one challenge — the growing scarcity of lithium-ion batteries.

That could change if states such as South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia speed up plans to develop a lithium-ion battery value chain.

In May, Zambia and the DRC inked a deal to use some of the estimated 70% of the world’s cobalt reserves found on their territory for the local manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.

Under the aegis of the Republic of Zambia and the DRC Battery Council, the two states plan to drive investments into battery manufacturing, hoping to drive local costs down and boost availability on the continent.

Plans are also afoot for South Africa’s government and industry to tap into electric vehicle components manufacturing, leveraging the country’s car manufacturing value chain.

In November 2017, energy storage and automotive component specialist Metair unveiled a programme to produce lithium-ion batteries across its operations in South Africa, Turkey and Romania.

Metair partnered with the South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry at the University of the Western Cape, which houses the only pilot-scale lithium-ion battery cell assembly facility in Africa.

And last year, South Africa made a major proposal to encourage green transportation with an electric vehicle promotion policy, offering subsidies to manufacturers and buyers to drive up the supply and demand of EVs.

Released in May last year, the country’s e-mobility policy framework showed the state is planning significant fiscal incentives to spur the sale of new energy vehicles (NEVs). In the proposed roadmap, South Africa will ramp up investment in the expansion and development of new and existing manufacturing plants to support the production of NEVs.

This includes producing electric vehicle components, with battery manufacturing a priority, according to the department of trade, industry and competition.

African states plan to increase the share of the continent’s electric vehicle ownership to reduce emissions.

There are more than 10-million battery-powered vehicles on the road globally, with the number set to jump to 230-million by 2030, the International Energy Agency forecasts.

 In August, 490 000 battery electric vehicles were sold in China, more than double the corresponding number in 2021 and accounting for the vast majority of new electric vehicle sales. NEVs made up 30.1% of all new cars sold in China in August, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

For most countries, besides the zero-emission benefit, electric vehicles are cheaper to service than their petrol counterparts, with electricity being less expensive than fuel in most places.

Car sales in Africa are expected to more than double by 2040, driven by urbanisation and rising incomes. A good proportion of those could be made up of electric vehicles.

Global management consulting firm McKinsey says the total cost of ownership of electric vehicles is more favourable than that of internal combustion engine vehicles in Africa, even in countries with fairly high electricity costs such as Kenya, suggesting that Africa is ready for an EV revolution. 

Early entrants into electric vehicles, including smaller players like Gajibo, are also expected to drive investments in green mobility.

Electric mass-transit company Roam is to launch in Kenya this week as “the first-ever electric, mass transit bus operation” in that country.

Electric two-wheelers are expected to record faster growth than other vehicles, with Nigeria and Kenya witnessing a surge in demand for them.

According to a Research and Markets report, the global electric bus market size is projected to grow from 112 041 units in 2022 to reach 671 285 units by 2027, a constant average growth rate of 43.1%.

The advancements in battery pack technologies and electric powertrains are some of the factors driving the growth of the electric bus and coach market while many countries are focusing on electrification of their mass transit solutions, especially buses and coaches.Factors such as a rise in pollution and environmental hazards, stringent government regulations and stiff competition have compelled vehicle manufacturers to make fuel-efficient and environment-friendly buses. The nine-metre to 14m bus segment is projected to be the largest market during the forecast period in terms of volume, but that won’t slow Gajibo and others who are eyeing the potential of Africa’s enormous “micro” bus segment. — bird story agency