Is Africa Ready to Transition to Electric Vehicles?
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Insight & Analysis - March 11, 2022

Is Africa Ready to Transition to Electric Vehicles?

Report shows that transport currently makes up 10 percent of Africa’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and this is expected to increase.

With the world gradually evolving from internal combustion engine-powered mobility to electric vehicles, it is pertinent that governments in Africa pay close attention and initiate deliberate efforts towards setting their states on the right path to embracing the new norm.

According to a recent Mckinsey report, it is expected that 80 per cent of the world’s vehicle sales will be electric by 2035. In line with this, major automotive markets such as the United States of America, the European Union, and China will be offering only EVs by then.

A major reason for the clamour for countries to transition to the use of electronic vehicles is the fact that they are a vital component of achieving climate neutrality and improving quality of life by reducing air and noise pollution.

African countries currently need to do more in order to stay on par with other parts of the world if they are not to be left behind and become a dumping ground for the world’s unwanted used vehicles. The scenario is even more critical when one considers the data as it stands.

Impact of the current mode of transport on Africa’s greenhouse emissions

According to the report, transport currently makes up 10 percent of Africa’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and this is expected to increase given the current number of vehicles being used around the continent.

Six countries currently make up about 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s annual vehicle sales. They are South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. These countries also make up about 45 percent of the region’s population.

These countries’ registered vehicles are expected to grow from 25 million vehicles today to an estimated 58 million by 2040, driven by urbanisation and rising incomes.

However, there is a caveat here: although the number of registered vehicles in sub-Saharan Africa is growing, this is, however, largely dominated by used ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. This needs to change.

Data on used vehicles across African countries

According to the 2020 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Africa accounts for about 40% of all used vehicles exported from major automobile manufacturing hubs such as Japan, Europe, and the US.

Also, an IHS Markit consumer survey of about a thousand vehicles across Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda shows that about 25 million used vehicles are on the road today in these countries, and this is projected to hit 58 million by 2040.

It also reports that about 40% of globally exported vehicles end up in Africa, with the average price of a used car in Kenya and Nigeria hovering between $6000 and $10,000.

Challenges

While the momentum is certainly building, sub-Saharan Africa faces some unique challenges in its transition to electric vehicles, including, unreliable electricity supply, low vehicle affordability, and the dominance of used vehicles. The regulatory environment for used vehicles is something that also needs to be addressed.

Power

Reliable electricity, a vital component in the use of electric vehicles, continues to be a challenge in many African countries.

While many countries have made significant strides toward improving electricity access (all six countries mentioned have urban-electricity-access rates above 70 percent and some more than 90 percent); electricity reliability still remains an issue.

In a 2019 survey by Afrobarometer across 34 African countries, fewer than half of those connected to the grid have reliable electricity. In essence, reliable power supply is still a challenge across Africa.

Conversely, the 2020 System Average Interruption Disruption Index (SAIDI) which measures the total duration of customer interruptions of electricity supply over a year divided by the number of customers for sub-Saharan Africa, was 39.30 versus 0.87 for OECD high-income countries.

Affordability

Another identified challenge is the issue of affordability. Presently, the cheapest electronic vehicle from Tesla is the Model 3 standard range which goes for about $41,990 (N17,509,830) while the Hyundai Ioniq electric car goes for $34,250 (N14,282,250).

These are clearly off the mark for individuals in an average economy where the middle class is just about 10% of the entire population. Until used four-wheeler electric vehicles become available at scale at similar prices—likely in the mid to late 2030s, it is unlikely they will be able to compete without incentives.

Many African countries are also yet to provide asset finance at affordable rates at scale thus making a move challenging given the high cost of electric vehicles.

Furthermore, given the large number of used vehicles in African countries (approximately 85 percent of all four-wheel vehicle sales are used vehicles), the transition to EV will no doubt be herculean.

Weak regulation

On the back of the low purchasing capacity of their citizens, many African countries also have weak regulatory frameworks for the importation of used cars.

With the exception of South Africa, which has placed an outright ban on the importation of used vehicles, many still allow the import of vehicles over 15 years old and with fairly low emissions standards.

A 2020 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report states that 40 out of 49 sub-Saharan African countries have weak or very weak used-vehicle regulations.

Efforts by countries towards electric vehicle adoption

While seven countries have banned the import of used vehicles older than five years or have adopted at least a Euro 4 emission standard for imports, thirty-nine other African countries however allow the import of used vehicles six years old or older or have a Euro 3 emission standard or lower adopted for imports.

Regardless, some governments have started to announce plans for electrification targeted specifically at the adoption of electric vehicles. Kenya and Rwanda have both adopted tax incentives to encourage electric vehicle imports and are working on developing their own electric two-and three-wheelers.

A number of start-ups have also begun to spring up focused on the building and sales of electric vehicles such as two-wheelers, buses, and cars. Kenya’s Opibus, which recently introduced the first all-electric bus in the East African country, comes to mind here. The bus is said to be the first-ever of its kind manufactured in Africa and will reduce more than 60% of the operating costs for users of motorcycles and buses.

It is regrettable that the Nigerian Senate in 2019 rejected a bill sponsored by Senator Ben Murray-Bruce Bruce that sought to phase out petrol vehicles by 2035 and introduce electric cars.

To accelerate the continent’s move in this direction, four main enablers must be worked upon by countries, namely: scaling electricity and charging infrastructure, innovating local production and supply chains, favourable regulatory mechanisms and financing assets, assemblers, and infrastructure.

Read Also: Nigeria’s Vehicle Manufacturer Innoson Set to Produce Electric Cars

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